Workplace incivility has been defined as "low-intensity deviant behavior with ambiguous intent to harm the target. ... Uncivil behaviors are characteristically rude and discourteous, displaying a lack of regard for others." Incivility is distinct from violence. Examples of workplace incivility include insulting comments, denigration of the target's work, spreading false rumors, social isolation, and bad manners. The reduction of workplace incivility is a fertile area for occupational health psychology research.
Surveys on occurrence and effects
A summary of research conducted in Europe suggests that workplace incivility is common there. In research on more than 1000 U.S. civil service workers, Cortina, Magley, Williams, and Langhout (2001) found that more than 70% of the sample experienced workplace incivility in the past five years. Similarly, Laschinger, Leiter, Day, and Gilin found that among 612 staff nurses, 67.5% had experienced incivility from their supervisors and 77.6% had experienced incivility from their coworkers. In addition, they found that low levels of incivility along with low levels of burnout and an empowering work environment were significant predictors of nurses’ experiences of job satisfaction and organizational commitment. Compared to men, women were more exposed to incivility.
Incivility was associated with psychological distress and reduced job satisfaction. After conducting more than six hundred interviews with "employees, mangers, and professionals in varying industries across the United States" and collecting "survey data from an additional sample of more than 1,200 employees, managers, and professionals representing all industrial categories in the United States and Canada", researchers Christine M. Pearson and Chiristine L. Porath wrote in 2004 that "The grand conclusion: incivility does matter. Whether its costs are borne by targets, their colleagues, their organizations, their families, their friends outside work, their customers, witnesses to the interactions, or even the instigators themselves, there is a price to be paid for uncivil encounters among coworkers." Citing previous research (2000) Pearson writes that "more than half the targets waste work time worrying about the incident or planning how to deal with or avert future interactions with the instigator. Nearly 40 percent reduced their commitment to the organization; 20 percent told us that they reduced their work effort intentionally as a result of the incivility, and 10 percent of targets said that they deliberately cut back the amount of time they spent at work."
Examples at the more subtle end of the spectrum include:
- giving somebody a "dirty look"
- asking for input and then ignoring it
- "forgetting" to share credit for a collaborative work
- speaking with a condescending tone
- interrupting others
- not listening
- waiting impatiently over someone's desk to gain their attention
- side conversations during a formal business meeting/presentation
Somewhere between the extremes are numerous everyday examples of workplace rudeness and impropriety such as:
- sending a nasty and demeaning note (hate mail)
- talking about someone behind his or her back
- emotional put-downs
- Disrespecting workers by comments, gestures or proven behaviors (hostility) based on characteristics such as their race, religion, gender, etc. This is considered workplace discrimination.
- making accusations about professional competence
- undermining credibility in front of others
- overruling decisions without giving a reason
- disrupting meetings
- giving public reprimands
- giving the silent treatment
- not giving credit where credit is due
- giving dirty looks or other negative eye contact (i.e. "hawk eyes" considered to be threatening in the culture of the United States)
- insulting others
Other overt forms of incivility might include emotional tirades and losing one's temper.
Workplace bullying overlaps to some degree with workplace incivility but tends to encompass more intense and typically repeated acts of disregard and rudeness. Negative spirals of increasing incivility between organizational members can result in bullying, but isolated acts of incivility are not conceptually bullying despite the apparent similarity in their form and content. In case of bullying, the intent of harm is less ambiguous, an unequal balance of power (both formal and informal) is more salient, and the target of bullying feels threatened, vulnerable and unable to defend himself or herself against negative recurring actions.
Anther related notion is petty tyranny, which also involves a lack of consideration towards others, although petty tyranny is more narrowly defined as a profile of leaders and can also involve more severe forms of abuse of power and of authority.
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- ^ a b Cortina, Lilia M.; Magley, Vicki J.; Williams, Jill Hunter; Langhout, Regina Day (2001). "Incivility in the workplace: Incidence and impact". Journal of Occupational Health Psychology 6 (1): 64–80. doi:10.1037/1076-89220.127.116.11. PMID 11199258.
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