The surprising cost of workplace rudeness

John Cleese 0011

In a startling HBR article by Christine Porath and Christine Pearson called The Price of Incivility they reveal that over 50% of the 14,000 employees they surveyed had experienced rudeness or disrespect in the last week. This represented a substantial increase over the last 14 years they have been monitoring workplace civility.

What is even more surprising is the outcome of that rudeness. For the recipients:

  • 48% intentionally decrease work effort
  • 38% intentionally decrease work quality
  • 25% took their frustrations out on customers

Only 20% of customers that witness disrespect between employees are likely to remain loyal to that company.

This disrespect can take the form of bullying, harassment, teasing, or discrimination. The most often quoted excuse from the protagonist is that they don’t have time to be nice. In some cases a whole department can be infected with devastating productivity costs. One of the most likely root causes of this uncivil behaviour is high levels of stress.

This stress and disrespect shuts down discretionary effort, collaboration, and creativity, and is the antitheses of what is required in to thrive through change.

According to a study conducted by Accountemps and reported in Fortune, managers and executives at Fortune 1,000 firms spend 13% of their work time—the equivalent of seven weeks a year—mending employee relationships and otherwise dealing with the aftermath of incivility.

What can leaders do to address this?

Leaders can have a tremendous positive (or negative) impact on the incidence of rudeness. Many leaders are under extraordinary pressure to do more with less, and this often impacts their own wellbeing and tolerance levels. There are two main strategies a leader can follow to reduce rudeness:

  • Stay physically and mentally healthy
  • Model the right behaviour

Staying physically and mentally healthy

There has never been a more important time for leaders to place a priority on their own health. It is essential to know which strategies enhance your energy. Leaders that understand their purpose, passions, and positive strengths will be more robust and resilient. For each individual it is different, but common rituals that improve resilience include regular exercise, eating well, and getting enough rest. Having supportive relationships and outside interests is also essential. There is no greater advantage for a leader than understanding their top 5 strengths and those of the people that work for them.  To understand how to identify your purpose, passions, and positive strengths, you can download a free workbook.

Modelling the right behaviour

Leaders are the Chief Energy Officer of their tribe. They create energy and wellbeing by living and coaching for personal care, purpose, progress, and physical wellbeing:

  • Personal care – Gallup research has shown that the one question that best predicts engagement is “I have a supervisor or someone at work that seems to care about me as a person.” A genuine interest in someone and being willing to regularly ask RU OK? is central to this.
  • Purpose – requires regularly communicating why what the individual and group does is important. Today’s employees yearn for meaning in their work and good leaders regularly explain how their work makes a difference.
  • Progress – Teresa Amabile’s excellent book The Progress Principle shows that making progress on meaningful work is the most energising and motivating event an information worker can experience. Effective leaders acknowledge even the smallest progress on a regular basis. To make progress, employees need to understand exactly what their role is.
  • Physical and mental wellbeing – The Shawn Achor article in February 2012 issue shows that employees with a positive mood are 31% more productive, sell 37% more, and are 300% more creative. Practical strategies for leaders to help create this positive mood include walking meetings, flexibility work hours to fit exercise into the day, and encouraging a supportive RUOK? environment.
How do I create momentum to build a more civil and resilient culture?

Graeme has delivered his “10 things science says will make you thrive” workshop to hundreds of workplaces. It provides people with practical strategies to increase their daily energy, resilience, and robustness.

“Graeme delivered one of the most compelling presentations I have seen. He and his message are relevant for any workplace experiencing change, and have had a lasting impact on my group. Highly recommended.” – David Banks, GM Business Performance, National Australia Bank

“The six P’s of a thriving tribe coach” provides leaders with practical rituals that increase the collaboration, effectiveness, and energy of their tribe.

If you would like to know more about Graeme’s presentations or availability please contact Sonja Firth at or +612 8005 0344.

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