Monday, July 13, 2009

Bad Behavior at Work has Bottom-Line Consequences

My last post about the rudeness of hiring managers garnered a lot of attention, and as you can see from the comments, many people are truly bugged by uncivil behavior in the job interview process.

That is certainly a perfect lead-in for this story that I wrote for Gannett on a new book not just talking about the fact that rudeness appears to be an epidemic across all professions, but that it has real bottom-line consequences for business:

For Andrew Rosen, rudeness at work is embodied by the co- workers who “use their outside voices” to talk about everything from celebrity gossip to their jobs.

“I’m all for collaboration, but these people never stop talking, and they talk about everything – loudly,” Rosen says. “I work in a cube-farm environment, so there’s no getting away from it.”

Adding insult to injury, Rosen says these “overly aggressive” workers “seem to be moving up.”

“If I were a boss, I’d take into account that I may not see the day-to-day impact someone has on other people, and I would check that out” before promoting someone, says Rosen, a website manager for a nonprofit in New York City.

That’s exactly what Christine Pearson, a management professor, hopes will happen. She has written a new
book with Christine Porath called “The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It,” (Portfolio, $25.95). While there have been other books talking about the jerks at work, Pearson says this one is aimed at what matters most to businesses – the bottom line.

“It’s almost impossible these days to find a company that doesn’t have a statement about how to treat customers – but they don’t have anything written about how to treat one another,” Pearson says. “What we’re saying is that incivility at work has real bottom line consequences.”

Specifically, the authors argue that by looking at issues such as the hours of productivity lost due to incivility – whether it’s from a worker trying to avoid a rude colleague or workers trying to dodge the number of hours they spend at work – bad behavior has consequences for an entire organization.

At the same time, Pearson says she believes that the struggling economy has added to incivility in the workplace because of growing stress on workers to perform more with less. Also, the increased stress on worker’s personally and professionally leads to greater sensitivity – and that leads to at least the perception by employees that incivility is on the rise, she says.

A whopping 95 percent of those in the workplace say they put up with workplace incivility on a routine basis, and one in five report they suffer through it at least once a week. Some 12 percent of employees get fed up with the whole thing and leave their jobs because of uncivil colleagues.

“Leaders need to understand that incivility can run rampant if they don’t do anything,” says
Pearson, a professor at the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, Ariz.. “But the good news is that there are things organizations can do.”

Specifically, Pearson and Porath suggest a no excuse, “zero tolerance” policy for incivility, with rude instigators weeded out and tossed out. Further, they say leaders must not only teach civility, they must show they walk the talk by not promoting or rewarding those who don’t practice what the company preaches.

“There are routine offenders who make people believe that they’re getting ahead because of their incivility. Some others may start looking up to them, and then they start behaving the same way,” Pearson says. “What we’re saying is that it’s going to cost you millions of dollars if you let that happen.”

While Pearson says about 60 percent of incivility comes from upper ranks abusing those in the lower tiers of an organization, rudeness really has no boundaries and can happen at even the lower ranks – such as loudness and lack of respect for another’s work space.

One of the biggest issues may be that those with the objectionable behavior may not recognize their own rudeness. Pearson says she’s already had inquiries on how to send the book to people anonymously.

“There’s no question that this phenomenon is running rampant and hurting teams and organizations. When we started researching this subject, there was an immediate resonance from people. Everyone seemed to have a story,” she says. “Something needs to be done, and that’s why we knew that in order to get the attention of the people who can make a difference we had to link it to the bottom line.”

How has incivility impacted you at work and does your workplace do anything to stop it?

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