Workplace Civility Increases Productivity
That’s the advice Dr. Christine Porath gave at a recent Deputy Director for Management Seminar Series lecture in Masur Auditorium.
“Being truly civil means doing the small things, like smiling and saying hello to someone in the hallway or listening fully when someone is speaking to you,” said Porath, associate professor of management at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. “It doesn’t mean you can’t have strong opinions, can’t disagree, can’t have conflict or can’t give negative feedback. It’s just do it civilly.”
Porath landed her dream job at the world’s largest sports management and marketing firm after she graduated from college. She saw firsthand one executive’s toxic behavior and how it affected the company’s employees at work and home. She resigned a year later and went to graduate school to study the impact of incivility in the workplace.
Incivility is disrespect or rudeness and “it includes a lot of different behaviors, from mocking or belittling someone, to excluding them, to texting while someone’s talking to you at meetings, to telling offensive jokes,” she explained.
The cost of incivility is high, Porath said. Instead of focusing on work, those who experience the behavior are far less motivated and are worried about future incidents. A few even leave their jobs. Sadly, employers are not aware of these behaviors because employees don’t report it. Some companies estimate that negative behavior costs millions of dollars in lost productivity.
Employees who witness incivility in the workplace are affected too, Porath noted. They become three times less likely to help anyone if they’re working around incivility. In hospitals, for example, not working together can have dire consequences for patients.
“Incivility is contagious. It’s a bug, it’s a virus and we can catch it anywhere—not only at work, but at home, online or in our community,” she said. “It affects our emotions, motivations, performance and how we treat others.”
Most people admit to being uncivil because they are stressed. They also fear they’ll appear less leader-like if they act civilly. They wonder: Do nice guys finish last? Do jerks get ahead? Luckily, however, that’s not the case.
“If you’re civil, you’re more likely to be seen as a leader and you tend to perform better,” Porath said.
Most employees want their bosses to respect them, she noted. Those who felt respected said they are healthier, more focused, engaged in their work and are more likely to stay with the organization.
Some supervisors act uncivilly, unaware that they are doing it. Porath knew of one experienced doctor who admitted to being rude because his mentor acted disrespectfully and was rude to him. He didn’t think there was another way. Porath recommends that those who think they might act uncivilly ask others for their perceptions of them. The good news is that it’s possible to change.
“Saying thank you, sharing credit, listening attentively to people, humbly asking questions, acknowledging people and even smiling can have a really great effect on others and, in turn, lift yourself up as well,” she said.
For those working or living in an uncivil environment, she recommends creating a “sense of thriving.” This means people look for growth opportunities, volunteer, ask a mentor for help, find meaning in work and build positive relationships.
To build a culture of civility, Porath advises hiring candidates who fit an organization’s culture, creating rules that encourage civility, recognizing those who behave civilly and providing feedback to employees who behave uncivilly.
“We will get people to give more and function at their best if we’re civil,” Porath concluded. “When we have more civil environments, we’re more productive, creative, helpful, happy and healthy.”