Incivility in the Workplace
I. Executive Summary
This research study was developed in an effort to collect some objective data on what appears to be a problematic trend across the social fabric in general and of particular concern to the workplace: incivility in our environment. Incivility seems to be a consistent topic of interest in the media whether in print, radio or television and widespread consensus on the matter would suggest that most agree that civility is on the decline. It was the objective of this research team to determine if incivility in the workplace is increasing and if this increase is affecting the internal and external environment, i.e. employee and customer relations, of organizations. Another goal of this research was to determine and clarify what the market potential there might be for etiquette training in New Hampshire specifically.
This research was conducted through the use of an online questionnaire that was posted on the New Hampshire College (NHC) Website. A cover letter was distributed via e-mail to a sample that was selected from a query of a NHC database of students and alumni. Within this cover letter there existed a hyperlink to the electronic questionnaire. The cover letters were sent out on May 25, 2000 and the deadline for the returned questionnaires was May 30, 2000.
The response rate for this questionnaire was 14.3%, or 84 respondents. The results for this study were essentially descriptive. It was clear that most of the sample appeared to have an understanding of incivility and recognized what they saw as incivility in the workplace. According to this research, the response pattern suggests an overall increase of experiences of incivility over time. Moreover, it does seem that incivility is negatively effecting both the internal and external environments of organizations. Finally, it was discovered that there is a need for etiquette training in the workplace.
Overall, incivility appears to be an increasing dilemma for organizations. This research indicates a trend that has been slowly, but surely making its way into our work environment. Incivility seems to be getting worse, not better. It appears that etiquette training might be a sound solution to the civility problems that are being encountered by the work force of today. It may cost organizations a bit more now, but it will most likely pay for itself in the long term.
The objective of this research paper was to determine if incivility in the workplace is increasing and the affect this increase is having on organization both internally and externally. With the current unemployment rate at an all time low and an unprecedented economic expansion, more and more organizations are finding it difficult to obtain and retain employees. However, according to Pert Post, co-author of The Etiquette Advantage in Business Personal Skills for Professional Success, many potential employees may be lacking the basic etiquette skills needed to successfully obtain employment. "Whether it's an MIT graduate heading for a programming job in Silicon Valley or a Northeastern graduate entering the banking industry, students are finding they need more than their academic skills to successfully navigate the business world" (Post, 1999).
Today, appropriate etiquette is being recognized as a valuable resource. Many school systems, both public and private, are offering training in this area. For example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology runs a one-day "charm school" that features such topics as "how to make small talk," "how to tell somebody something they"d rather not hear," and "how to butter up big shots." Public education systems are evaluating and implementing a "social curriculum" component to their programs starting at the lower elementary level, which focuses on student-to-student interactions. Researchers have concluded that workplace incivilities mirror incidents of social incivility, such as road rage and duels over parking spaces (Unknown, 2000).
Additional research indicates that rudeness can affect the company"s bottom line due to lost productivity and employee turnover. Christine Pearson, a management professor at the University of North Carolina business school, surveyed 775 people regarding "rude, insensitive, discourteous behavior" at the office. Survey results indicated that twelve percent of the people that experience rude behavior quit their jobs, while 52 percent reported losing work time, and 22 percent of those surveyed deliberately decreased their work effort. The most troubling statistic is that over 78 percent of those surveyed said that incivility has worsened in the past 10 years (Pearson, Andersson, Porath, 1999).
Additionally, as the workplace becomes more diverse, cultural backgrounds of all employees must be understood. Behavior that one person may perceive as cold, brusque, or rude, another may view as no-nonsense, competent, and of an efficient manner. Workers of different backgrounds may react very differently to the same behavior. While, acts of incivility are typically cumulative it's often subtle, day-to-day incivilities among coworkers that can escalate and lead to aggression.
Incivility is a business issue that has been in existence for many years. It has existed in both small and big businesses. It crosses the line from sales organizations to manufacturing companies. It exists in service industries and in professional businesses. You can experience incivility dealing with subordinates, peers or superiors. If you look hard enough, you can find it almost anywhere. But what is incivility?
For most of us incivility is a negative issue. Whether it is a rude comment, a look, or maybe a lack of courtesy, incivility has many faces. The Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus defines incivility as "a rude or discourteous act (Abate, 1996)." Lynne Andersson and Christine M. Pearson state, " We have established that incivility involves acting rudely or discourteously, without regard for others, in violation of norms for respect in social interactions." In determining just what norms are, they go on to state that "Workplace norms are the norms of the community of which one is a part while at work, consisting of basic moral standards and others that have arisen out of the tradition of that community, including those prescribed by formal and informal organizational policies, rules, and procedures (Pearson, Andersson, Porath, 1999)."
In today's world, incivility can be as little as not opening a door to help an associate, or not making another pot of coffee after pouring the last cup. Generally, we look at incivility as something more significant. Verbal abuse, harassment, and rudeness are usually considered to be significant acts of incivility. Incivility is something that can become a problem with the introduction of a new employee into the work area or workforce. It can also be something that starts with an outside change, such as a change in ownership or the integration of different work groups.
There are a number of other factors that can precipitate incivility in the workplace. Crowded working conditions can have an effect on incivility as well as having too much work to do. If employees are put under excess stress, that can definitely have an effect on the mood and the way employees treat each other.
Incivility can begin in small ways and develop into something tragic. First, people stop being cordial to each other. "Please and Thank You" disappear, then people stop smiling and performing the common courtesies that are expected in the business work arena. These acts of incivility can precipitate a downward spiral leading to a positive feed back loop where people trade obscenities, and can even degrade into acts of violence.
In The Everyday Face of Workplace Violence, William Atkinson notes "The American Management Association found that 52 percent of respondents reported experiencing at least one incident or threat of violence in the workplace in the previous three years (Atkinson, 2000). The Society for Human Resource Management found that 48 percent of employees surveyed experienced a violent incident in the workplace in the previous two years, including verbal threats (39 percent), pushing and shoving (22 percent), and fist fights (14 percent) (www.shrm.org, 2000)."
Beside the fact that incivility is a bad thing, it is a significant expense to the operation of an organization. Victims of incivility can suffer from increased stress, anxiety, exhaustion, sleeplessness, depression, anger and embarrassment. Loss of work time, sickness and workmen's compensation claims can be the result of incivility in the workplace. Many times, employees would rather quit their jobs and move on to another job than report an incident.
William Atkinson lists several strategies worth investigating to deal with incivility.
By having and utilizing programs and policies like these, employers can create and maintain safe, enjoyable and effective workplace environments where all can share and gain from their combined efforts.
Employees should develop and maintain proper work etiquette to make interaction at work a smooth and enjoyable experience for everyone. In the article The Six Principles of Protocol, Dr. Jan Yager gives us a list of six basic principles of business etiquette.
Incivility in the workplace is a problem that will not go away unless a concerted effort is made to control and eliminate it starting at the home, the playground, at school, and in all parts of our daily lives. Only by making civility part of our daily routine, can we eliminate incivility. The choice is ours to make.
In the article Business Etiquette Can be Your Ticket to Success, the main point made is that companies can make more money by having employees that use proper etiquette while at work. In contrast, employees that do not use proper etiquette while at work can cost the company money. Also, in dealing with the companies' customers, proper etiquette should be used. Customers that are impressed by courteous and helpful employees will return because of the way they were treated and not necessarily because of the stores prices. The article also states that companies should enforce proper etiquette, not just embrace it (Gaillaird, 1999).
An article written by Pam Windsor, What do Companies Pay for Workplace Rudeness?, states that workers that are not treated properly, or in other words, have experienced incivility, will not be as productive, or even worse, will be counterproductive. Physical illnesses may also result, causing sick days to be used. The causes of increasing workplace rudeness according to the article are layoffs, part time versus full time employees, and stress from management pushing for increased productivity. The article also states that companies should take a proactive step to prevent workplace rudeness, and in so doing will help to increase their worker productivity and the company's bottom line (Windsor, 1999).
Jim Owen's article, Bullying and Rudeness Are on the Rise, states that workplace rudeness is on the rise due to layoffs, tightening budgets, and internal competition. This, according to Christine Pearson, is decreasing the companies' profits due to employees not being as productive. The article goes on to state that employees who experience incivility should record the incident and report it to their supervisor. Again, in this article, it is stated that companies should be proactive in the fight against workplace rudeness (Owen, 1999).
After conducting our secondary research, it became evident that we could expand on some of the research that has already been done. We decided that it would be interesting to determine the extent of incivility in New Hampshire and how this incivility is affecting organizations' internal and external environments. Also, we were interested in examining the environment for etiquette training. The following is the result of these interests.
III. Theoretical Framework
A. Research Objective
á To determine if the increase in incivility is affecting organizations both internally and externally
á To determine if there is a market for etiquette training
á Survey distribution costs were not the responsibility of the research team.
á Survey was posted on the New Hampshire College Website.
á Website address was sent as a hyperlink via e-mail to the sample within a cover letter.
á Cover letters were sent to both management and non-management.
á Only e-mail addresses in the State of New Hampshire were used for this survey.
á A minimum of 500 e-mails were sent out.
á Recipients only had five days to complete and return survey.
á Data was retrieved from anonymous sources.
á There were a limited number of e-mail addresses available.
á Respondents may not have been telling the truth.
á Response rate may not have been high enough to draw any conclusions about the entire State of New Hampshire.
á Respondents may not have understood the survey.
á Volunteers are not typical.
á Incivility exists in the workplace.
á All respondents will have an understanding of incivility in the workplace.
á The research team is qualified to administer this survey.
á Respondents told the truth.
á The survey was distributed fairly.
á Incivility (n.) 1. rudeness; discourtesy. 2. a rude or discourteous act.
á Rude (adj.) 1. impolite or offensive. 2. roughly made or done; lacking subtlety or accuracy. 3. primitive or uneducated. 4. abrupt; sudden; startling; violent. 5. indecent; lewd.
á Etiquette (n.) 1. the conventional rules of social behavior. 2a. the customary behavior of members of a profession towards each other. b. the unwritten code governing this.
á Ethics (n.) a set of moral principles.
á E-mail (n.) a message distributed by electronic means, esp. from one computer system to one or more recipients: short for electronic mail.
á Hyperlink (n.) an electronic link providing direct access from one distinctively marked place in a hypertext or hypermedia document to another in the same or a different document.
F. Independent Variables
á Incivility in the workplace
G. Dependent Variables
á Internal environment
á External environment
á Market for etiquette training
á Occupational Experience
A. Sample Selection
The sample for this study was drawn from the New Hampshire College (NHC) student and alumni databases. In order to determine the sample, the research team performed two queries on this database. We decided that part of the sample needed to fall into a few categories. The guidelines for the first query were as follows:
Part-time graduate students of NHC
Living addresses in the State of New Hampshire
This group made up 54% of the sample. The number of individuals in this group was 351.
After this query was performed, it was decided that we needed to increase the size of our sample. This was done trough a second query on the same database. The guidelines for the second query were as follows:
Living Addresses in the State of New Hampshire.
This segment of the sample made up 46%. The number of individuals in this group was 299.
These two groups combined gave us a total planned sample of 650 individuals. This sample size was more than our requirement based on a calculation to determine the minimum sample needed to accurately reflect the entire State of New Hampshire. The calculation was determined using a population in New Hampshire of more than 500,000, with a confidence level of 95% and an estimated error of 3%. Using this calculation it was determined that we required a sample of more than 544.
B. Data Gathering
The method used to gather the data for this research was in the form of an electronic questionnaire or survey (Appendix A.). The survey was composed of 27 multiple-choice questions and a section pertaining to demographic information at the beginning. Each question contained a statement that pertained to incivility in the workplace and/or the impact incivility has on the workplace. The respondents rated their agreement with the statements with the aid of a Likert Scale. The Likert Scale included the standard responses of strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree, or strongly disagree. To respond to each question the respondent used a mouse to click on the appropriate response. The questionnaire would only accept one response for each question.
With the help of Darryl Dreffs, the NHC Webmaster, the electronic questionnaire was posted on the NHC Website at the address of www.nhc.edu/questionnaire from May 26 to May 30, 2000. After May 30, 2000, the questionnaire was removed from the website. The hyperlink mentioned above was sent within a cover letter (Appendix B.) that explained whom the research team was, the reasoning for the study, the intent of the research, and the requirements for completing the survey. Also included in this cover letter was a contact person should there be any technical difficulties in completing and returning the survey.
This data was returned back to us in the form of an excel spreadsheet. We took this raw data and used a Condensed Likert Scale to summarize the information. The Condensed Likert Scale simply combines the strongly agree responses with the agree responses and likewise with the strongly disagree and disagree responses to give us the three possible responses of agree, disagree, and neutral. This data was then manually counted and placed into a table on an Excel Spreadsheet to be used to express the results of the survey.
C. Data Analysis
This research was of an exploratory nature. There was no testing done on any of the results that were received. The results were merely transformed into charts and the data was presented from the results that were received from the respondents. Again, the only deviation from the true results was the use of the Condensed Likert Scale to express the results.
There are two types of results for this project. The first is of an informative nature in the form of demographics. The demographics are separated by age, gender, education, type of industry employed, and years in that industry. The second type is exploratory results. The second section of the results was divided into five categories to identify the major themes of the questionnaire. The five categories identified were the respondents understanding of incivility in the workplace, the existence of incivility in the workplace, the increase in incivility in the workplace, the effects this increase in incivility has on the internal and external environments of the organization, and the need for etiquette training.
The total planned sample was 650 individuals. Of the e-mails distributed, there were 57 returned as undeliverable. So, 593 were delivered successfully. There was a success rate for distribution of 91.2%. From those e-mails successfully delivered, we received 85 responses. One of these responses had to be discarded because it was blank. So, there were 84 useable responses to the questionnaire. There was a 14.3% response rate for this study.
A. Informative Results (Demographics)
These results give a good indication of the cross section of the actual sample. The following is a snapshot of the individuals that took part in this study. Again, these demographics are segmented by the aforementioned categories.
1. Sample (Age)
According to Table 1, 8.3% of the participants, or 7 respondents, were under the age of 25 years old. The largest percentage of respondents fell into the 25-34 years old category. There were 34 individuals, or 40.5%, in this group. Also, the number of respondents in the 35-44 years old group was 26 or 31.0% of the sample. There were 16 individuals or 19.0% in the 45-54 years old subset. There were no responses in the 55-64 years old category. Finally, 1 respondent or 1.2% of the respondents identified himself or herself as being 65 years old or older.
2. Sample (Gender)
According to the results (See Table 2), 43.4% or 36 respondents were male. The remainder of the sample, 56.6% or 47 respondents, were female.
3. Sample (Education)
Table 3 indicates that 1.2% of the participants or 1 respondent had an education level of a high school diploma or GED. There were no respondents in the associate degree or doctorate degree groups. The largest percentage of the sample was in the bachelors degree group at 69.4% or 59 respondents. Twenty-five respondents, or 29.4% of the sample fell into the graduate degree category.
4. Sample (Type of Industry)
According to the results in Table 4, 13 respondents or 15.9% were in the financial industry. Fourteen individuals, or 17.1%, were in the service industry. Ten respondents were in the manufacturing industry. This made up 12.2% of the sample. There was one individual or 1.2% of the sample in the construction industry. Four respondents or 4.9% of the participants worked for a non-profit organization. There were 18.3% or 15 respondents in the technology industry. Three individuals or 3.7% fell into the utilities industry. Finally, 26.8% or 22 respondents were in other industries all together.
5. Sample (Years in Industry)
The majority of respondents in Table 5 have been in their respective industries for 0-5 years. Thirty-two respondents, or 38.1% of the sample, were in this group. Sixteen respondents, 19.0% of the sample, were in their industry for 6-10 years. There were 15 respondents or 17.9% of the sample, who had been in their industries for 11-15 years. There were 21 respondents, or 25.0%, who had been in their industry for over 15 years.
B. Exploratory Results (Major Themes)
Each of the questions tried to specifically identify one of the following areas of this study. The questions that fall into the respondents understanding of incivility in the workplace are questions one, fourteen, and eighteen. The questions that identify the existence of incivility in the workplace are questions two, three, four, five, ten, and eleven. Questions two, two(a), two(b), three, three(a), three(b), four, four(a), four(b), and twenty-one all relate to the increase in incivility in the workplace. The effects on the internal and external environments were established with questions six, seven, eight, nine, thirteen, and fifteen. Finally, questions nineteen and twenty were used to establish the need for etiquette training. The breakdown of these results is as follows.
According to the results gathered from this research project, it is quite clear that the majority of the sample understands the meaning of incivility and can recognize it in the workplace. According to this study, 76.2% of the participants knew what incivility was prior to reading our definition of incivility. Also, 51.2% of respondents have a policy on the use of uncivil language in their organizations. Finally, 26.2% of the sample were either neutral or felt that their co-workers did not see the need for proper etiquette in the workplace. The majority of the participants know what incivility is and the policies that exist in their organization, and more than a quarter of the respondents identified that some of their co-workers are lacking in civility. It is quite clear that the sample population has an understanding of incivility.
According to this study, there is no doubt that incivility exists in the workplace. The evidence that incivility exists in the workplace is overwhelming. The majority of the sample, or 75.0% of the participants, have experienced incivility in the workplace, 79.8% have observed incivility in the workplace, and 50.0% have actually felt the urge to be uncivil in the workplace. Also, 39.3% have reported an incident of incivility. While 56.0% disagree that incivility has never been a problem at their organization, 28.6% feel that incivility is currently a problem at their workplace. The existence of incivility in the workplace is undisputed according to the results gathered in this study.
The increase in incivility is a somewhat less definable according to our results. It appears that the experience of incivility of the sample remains constant, but it is definitely not decreasing. However, respondents' observations of incivility seem to be increasing over time from 67.9% within the past five years to 79.8% currently. The respondents' urge to be uncivil is increasing from 44.0% within the past five years to 50.0% currently. Finally, when asked if they felt that incivility is increasing, a third of the sample agreed. According to these results, incivility in the workplace is increasing.
It is evident from these results that incivility has an adverse effect on organizations both internally and externally. According to this study, 23.8% of the sample has permanently left employment due to incivility in the workplace. In addition, 17.9% have missed workdays as a result of incivility in the workplace, and 23.8% have left work early due to incivility in the workplace. Also, 51.2% of the respondents felt that their efficiency or productivity have been negatively affected as a result of incivility. While 52.4% felt that incivility contributes to personnel turnover, 56.0% of the sample felt that incivility in the workplace costs organizations money. Incivility affects the bottom line. According to this research, we found that incivility in the workplace does affect the company's internal and external environments.
There appears to be a well-established need for etiquette training. While 44.0% of the sample felt that a seminar in etiquette training might help to reduce incivility in their workplace, only 19% felt that it might not help. Also, 40.5% of the respondents felt that they themselves could benefit from etiquette training. This research indicates that there is a clear need for etiquette training in the workplace and a market does exist for this type of service.
Abate, Frank, ed. The Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus. American Edition. Oxford: The Oxford University Press, 1996.
Atkinson, William "The Everyday Face of Workplace Violence." RiskManagement. v47, i2, Feb. 2000, p.12.
Gailliard, Kathy (1999) "Business Etiquette Can be Your Ticket to Success"American City Business Journal. p. unknown. Retreived May 15, 2000 from the World Wide Web: http://www.internetpress.com
Owen, Jim (1999) "Bullying and Rudeness Are on The Rise" American City Business Journal. p. unknown. Retreived May 15, 2000 from the World Wide Web: http://www.internetpress.com
Pearson, Christine M.; Andersson, Lynne M.; Porath, Christine L. "Assessing and Attacking Workplace Incivility" Organizational Dynamics, a publication of the American Management Association.
Post, Pert (1999) "The Etiquette Advantage in Business Personal Skills for Professional Success" American City Business Journal. p. unknown. Retreived May 15, 2000 from the World Wide Web: http://www.internetpress.com
Unknown. "More Schools Offering Basic Etiquette Training, Too" New Hampshire Sunday News: April 23, 2000
Windsor, Pam (1999) "What Companies Pay for Workplace Rudeness" American City Business Journal. p. unknown. Retreived May 15, 2000 from the World Wide Web: http://www.internetpress.com
Yager, Dr. Jan (1999) "Six Principles of Protocol" American City Business Journal. p. unknown. Retreived May 15, 2000 from the World Wide Web: http://www.internetpress.com
Zikmund, Edward, ed. Business Research Methods. Fifth Edition. Fort Worth: The Dryden Press, 1997.
Useful website for definitions www.webster.com
Some of our statistics came from the website www.shrm.org