Consumers are uncomfortable when exposed to rudeness, whether it’s waiters berating busboys or managers criticizing store clerks. Disrespectful behavior causes many patrons to walk out without making a purchase.
In The Price of Incivility, a January-February 2013 Harvard Business Review article Professors Christine Porath and Christine Pearson write about their research on incivility at work. In one experiment, half of the participants witnessed a bank representative publicly reprimanding a peer for incorrectly handling credit-card information. Only 20% of those who saw the encounter said they would use the bank’s services in the future (compared with 80% of customers who didn’t see the interaction). And nearly two-thirds of those who watched the exchange said they would feel anxious dealing with any bank employee.
Managing rudeness is expensive. Regardless of the circumstances, people don’t like to see others treated badly. Besides the loss of customers, there’s a cost associated with complaints among workers.
HR professionals say that just one incident can soak up weeks of attention and effort. According to a study conducted by Accountemps and reported in Fortune, managers and executives at Fortune 1000 firms spend 13% of their work time, or 7 weeks a year, mending employee relationships and dealing with incivility’s aftermath. And costs soar, of course, when consultants or attorneys must be brought in to help settle a situation.
What’s the Leadership Solution?
In my opinion and experience, based on the work I do, the only way to prevent rudeness and incivility is to change the way an organization approaches problems.
Leaders must be aware of the company’s culture:
- Does it consciously or unconsciously allow for bad behavior?
- Does the manager set limits on work behavior, enforce standards and policies, and deal with difficult employees in a positive way (early, so negative feelings cannot fester)?
You can examine your organizational culture by checking with the human resources department for complaints of unfair treatment or stress and disability claims. Look for patterns within a department.
Rudeness and workplace incivility can be responses to frustration, fear and uncertainty in high-stress work organizations, especially in an era of downsizing, globalization, new technologies, and economic recession. Stress can be mitigated by a healthy work environment, where employees are trusted and treated with dignity. Studies show that when people perceive the workplace as fair, they don’t act out.
What’s it like where you work? How is rudeness handled? Leave me a comment; I’d love to hear from you.