Workplace Civility; How do you do?
One rude encounter can ruin your day. You expect people to behave professionally at work and to a very large extent, they do. People share information or give direction without being pushy. Importantly, their words, gestures, facial expressions convey respect. People accept you as part of a community with a shared mission that may be creating a project, interacting with clients, treating patients, or developing new knowledge. They act as if you are all working together on this mission and everyone has something to contribute.
But not always. Some encounters are really unpleasant and those events have a huge personal impact. Even when they occur rarely, they have the power to shape a workgroup’s enduring culture.
The Effects of One Act of Incivility
- Initially, the rude action will violate expectations grabbing everyone’s attention. Incivility effects the workgroup but may also take a toll on customer relationships. Research from the University of Southern California shows that many consumers are less likely to buy anything from a company they perceive as uncivil, whether the rudeness is directed at them or other employees. Witnessing one quick negative interaction leads to generalisations about other employees, the organisation, and even the brand.
- Rudeness has an emotional impact. People react by feeling angry, ashamed, or surprised. Those feelings often linger long after the encounter. Individuals may often lie awake ruminating over the event. In a recent survey by Georgetown University, 80% of survey respondents indicated lost work time worrying about the incident, and 63% indicated lost work time in their effort to avoid the offender.
- Rudeness prompts people to respond rudely. These reactions can easily spiral out of control. When people feel disrespected, it eats away at them—and their potential. Engagement, teamwork, knowledge sharing, innovation, and contributions wane even among those who choose to work around the slights. Employees are three times less likely to help others and their willingness to share drops by more than half. In short, incivility kills helpfulness and collaboration.
- When a rude action is allowed to stand, a workgroup becomes a place where people act that way. It gives permission to behave badly towards one another.
Leaders cannot rely on these situations fixing themselves. Recovering from a culture of disrespect requires ongoing and deliberate action.
The workgroup process, Strengthening a Culture Of Respect and Engagement (SCORE) was developed to help workgroups overcome forces that weaken their culture of civility and respect. SCORE targets the workgroup culture by helping workgroups to build on positive interactions and improve how they work together.
SCORE in Action
Western Health runs three major public hospitals in Melbourne’s fast-growing and culturally diverse western suburbs. After a scathing 2015 Victorian auditor-general’s report on the health sector’s poor management of bullying and harassment, Western Health launched a positive workplace strategy, called ‘Don’t Walk Past’. This strategy combined with a range of educational initiatives on each person’s responsibility to manage themselves and speak out against inappropriate workplace behaviour, and annual surveys of Western Health’s 6500 staff, had generated improvements but hadn’t effectively tackled the whole team approach.
“It was a wake-up call for all of us,” says Suellen Bruce, director of people, culture and communication at Western Health. “To not just deal with issues on a case by case basis but to look at root causes. We all needed to lift our game because there were significant OH&S issues for staff and major concerns about the effect on patient outcomes.”
This is when PeopleScape introduced Western Health to Michael Leiter’s SCORE program. Michael Leiter is a global expert on workplace civility and job burnout, designing a world-first “civility intervention”. So far, the results are extremely promising.
The first participating units of the SCORE program points to signs of success. Suellen Bruce, the Director of People, Culture and Communication at Western Health sent out a baseline survey to the five groups that agreed to be in the trial. The two groups with the highest response rate and lower levels of civility were selected in the first wave of the SCORE program.
Preliminary results show that the two groups have improved significantly more than teams who were not participating in the program. This includes significant improvement in supervisor trust, coworker trust, and management trust. Attendance of the first three non-compulsory sessions also exceeded 90%. While the final data is yet to be formally announced, Suellen confirms that the signs are very promising.
In the end, it all comes down to respect. As the Australian workforce becomes more diverse in culture and age, it is important that we understand what respect looks like for each individual. It is not enough to just stamp out bad behaviour within the workforce through redundancies and restructures. Organisations need to actively encourage positive interactions between employees to make sure their staff are fully engaged. This will enable employees to achieve maximum levels of productivity and performance.