How Rude! Workplace Incivility On The Rise

Workplace IncivilityIntimidating. Threatening. Abrasive. Those are the words that co-workers of Diana Frey use to describe her, according to a report in Frey has been in the news in Ohio for having been caught stealing $757,000 from the Cincinnati Organized and Dedicated Employees Union, which she led. Frey was not only able to get away with wire fraud, but also long stretches of absenteeism. Frey's antics are receiving attention because of the extreme nature of her actions, but her behavior is of a piece with her times.

In May, the annual Civility in America poll was released (conducted by Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate in conjunction with KRC Research) and it showed that of the 1,000 adults surveyed, 38 percent think workplace incivility is a growing problem. Another 55 percent think the problem will only get worse in the next few years.

The release cast a large shadow over this past weekend's annual conference of the American Psychological Association.

When White Collar Jobs Turn Blue

According to experts present, the causes for the uptick were very much tied to the the Great Recession. As Paul Fairlie, a member of the APA and a founder of his own workplace consultancy firm, told USA Today: "White-collar work is becoming a little more blue-collar. There's higher work demands, longer hours. When you control for inflation, people are getting paid less than in the late '60s. A lot of people are working much harder. They've got fluid job descriptions and less role clarity. So for some people, for a growing fringe, work is becoming more toxic."

Previous investigations of "workplace incivility" have noted that what makes a negative environment so devastating is its insidious nature. More often than not, we aren't talking about "mad as hell" moments, of"Network" fame. Rather it's the "low-key, chronic and ubiquitious form" described in the 2005 book, "Landmark Incivility." Halelly Azulay, the president of TalentGrow, has compiled a study of exactly what constitutes "workplace incivility." Topping her list are:

  • sending nasty and demeaning notes or emails.
  • treating others like children.
  • accusing someone of lack of knowledge.
  • undermining another colleague's credibility in front of others.

(See her full list here.)

For the respondents to the civility poll, at blame are those who are sitting in corner offices setting the tone: 65 percent of respondents pointed a finger at workplace leadership.

Of course, a massive economic recovery would probably go a long way toward lightening up the workplace environment. But in the interim, steps can be taken to improve the professional setting, so said psychologist Wilmar Schaufeli at last year's Fifth European Conference on Positive Psychology. According to a report by the Mental Health News Organization, the professor at Utrecht University in Netherlands told the conference that the problem too often centers on the approach embraced by most companies in trying to improve the workplace atmosphere. Executives are still too focused on dealing with problems instead of preventing them by fostering a positive working environment. For Schaufeli, the key is in regular engagement of workers, which should take the form of regular meetings checking in with workers, goal-setting and coaching.

And according to a final survey, establishing a copacetic workplace couldn't be more important. Indeed, it may be a matter of life and death. A longitudinal study conducted out of the University of Tel Aviv, led by Dr. Sharon Toker, found that workers who reported low social support at their place of employment were 2.4 times more likely to die during that time as those in a supportive environment. The 20-year study followed the health records of 820 working adults between the ages of 25 to 65, who worked on average 8.8 hours a day.

In speaking to the Daily Mail, Dr. Toker noted: "We spend most of our waking hours at work, and we don't have much time to meet our friends during the weekdays. Work should be a place where people can get necessary emotional support."

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