In case you didn’t recognize the image, it is Mr. Rogers. Mr. Rogers created Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, a children’s television show that stopped airing in 2001 The show epitomized civility. His gift to the world was to teach us to be kind and civil and see the best in one another.
Both civility and incivility are contagious. We get to decide which direction we will take.
Incivility is “a low intensity deviant behavior with ambiguous intent to harm” Other studies define it more thoroughly as bad or rude behavior, with diminished use of basic courtesies such as “please” and “thank you,” abrupt and curt language, especially when using technological communication, a lack of respect for leaders and colleagues, with behaviors including belittling, interrupting or ignoring others, spreading rumors or gossip, and sending “nasty grams” to co-workers.
Picture this. I am sitting at my desk and an instant message alert goes out to members of the team so that they can prepare themselves mentally. The boss has arrived on site and is in a bad mood. The boss will choose a target for the day, and will comment about competence, make veiled threats, intimidate, and yell.
This was a chaotic, toxic, and unsafe environment that took its toll mentally and physically on everyone.
- We were afraid to be alone with the boss, so when we had a meeting, we would leave the office door open.
- The quality of the work on the unit suffered.
- Turnover was 100% within one year (maybe less than a year).
- Those that didn’t find another job, took sick leave or secondments.
“Incivility is so costly. It robs cognitive resources, hijacks performance and creativity, and sidelines people from their work. Incivility impairs thinking. People miss information right in front of them.” Porath
Everyone is entitled to a safe workplace
I tell this story for a few reasons:
Safety First: Everyone has a right to a safe workplace. Many countries around the world have legislation that requires a safe workplace.
Deliberate decision: This type of behaviour occurs more frequently than we want to admit. Whether this behaviour is tolerated or not, is a decision by the top executive of the organization.
Everyone in the organization needs to be a part of the solution. For managers, it means it needs to be stopped before it spreads by dealing with the person who is creating incivility. For workers, it means they need to address this behavior when it happens.
This situation is more than quit your whining and deal with it. Senior managers need to see it as a real issue. Those who say deal with it, are a part of the problem. It is harmful, unsafe, costly, and it:
- Results in high turnover which Increases recruitment and training costs.
- Results in poor quality work products which can lead to increased costs and time in redoing work and can damage the organization’s reputation.
- Leads to increased sick time costs, extra work for others and/or staff replacement costs which leads to increased societal health care costs.
- Results in poor morale which leads to more of the above.
Coping: We escalated this situation to the highest senior management levels, including human resources. They did not correct it even after numerous complaints, high turnover, and a high number of sick days on the unit. We had to decide whether to stay or leave. It was unfortunate that the complaint wasn’t taken seriously.
It’s easy to say quit and find another job, but the reality is most people need to find another job first. People have bills to pay, family responsibilities, or maybe it’s a first job and they need experience before getting another job. So, this is their choice for now.
All alone: I felt all alone even though others in the unit were also experiencing this behavior. Reporting the behaviour felt like a risk because:
I might come across as a complainer,
There might be retaliation,
I might not be taken seriously,
There may be a political agenda for keeping the manager, or,
Some other reason.
It changes you: Being in an unsafe work environment and under constant fear changes you. It makes you timid, diminishes your confidence, and creates doubts about your skills and abilities. This is because it releases stress hormones that interfere with your capacity to process information, and it rewires your brain.
Help needed: When I was going through this situation, I was desperate for help. I looked for information on the topic and for concrete suggestions of how to manage and survive. I am creating this series to address this issue and I want to be able to provide concrete support and suggestions to those who find themselves in a similar situation.
The good news is that I repaired the damage, found a safe and healthy workplace to thrive in, and moved on with my life.
This series continues in part two which is coming soon…Stay tuned!