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The Impact of Civility on Organizational Success

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Fostering a culture of civility in the workplace is not just a matter of politeness—it’s a strategic imperative. New SHRM research highlights the connection between civil workplaces and positive business outcomes. The data underscores the critical role of civility in driving bottom-line results, from employee satisfaction to organizational turnover.

Understanding the Landscape: Perception vs. Reality

The survey reveals an interesting dichotomy: While most U.S. workers (85 percent) and HR professionals (88 percent) perceive their workplaces as generally civil, many workers (55 percent) report experiencing or witnessing incivility at work within the past week. Almost half of U.S. workers (49 percent) who experienced or witnessed incivility in the workplace did not report it to HR or a manager, making it harder for organizations to detect and deter these behaviors. This dissonance between perception and reality underscores the pervasive nature of workplace dynamics and the importance of addressing incivility proactively.

The Cost of Incivility

Incivility in the workplace has tangible costs. Workers who rate their workplace as uncivil are more than three times as likely to be dissatisfied with their job percent and more than twice as likely to leave their job in the next year percent than those who rate their workplace as civil (28 percent versus 9 percent and 38 percent versus 17 percent, respectively). Additionally, HR professionals who rate their workplace as uncivil are twice as likely to report high or very high turnover percent than those who rate their workplace as civil (36 percent versus 18 percent).

Moreover, workers who experienced or witnessed incivility within the past week are less likely to feel psychologically safe at work, which can impede collaboration. These workers are significantly less likely to believe they can share their honest thoughts without fear at work percent and significantly more likely to believe they must filter much of what they say at work percent compared to those who did not experience or witness incivility in the past week (56 percent versus 72 percent and 45 percent versus 33 percent, respectively).

The Ripple Effect of Incivility

The repercussions of incivility go beyond individual experiences to harm broader organizational culture. Over half (55 percent) of U.S. workers who have experienced or witnessed incivility in their workplace say the behaviors or acts they observed were consistently committed by the same person or group of people. Recurring incivility can create mistrust, impede communication and harm productivity within an organization, as workers strive to avoid engaging with certain colleagues.

Creating a Culture of Civility

This issue is likely to become even more pressing in the months leading up to the 2024 election, as political disagreements make their way into the workplace. The survey found 39 percent of HR professionals and 33 percent of U.S. workers believe workplace conflict will increase over the next 12 months. The good news is that business leaders can help change their organization’s culture. More than three-quarters of U.S. workers say people managers (84 percent), senior management (84 percent) and executives (79 percent) are “important” or “very important” to achieving a culture of civility in their organization.

Next Steps for Leaders

Business leaders must prioritize civility as a cornerstone of organizational culture. Here are some actionable steps to foster a more civil and productive workplace:

  1. Set Expectations: Leadership sets the tone for organizational culture. Leaders should model respectful behavior and communicate that they expect the same while setting meaningful guardrails around political discussions.
  2. Promote Awareness: Raise employees’ awareness of the impact of civility and proper management of workplace conflict on organizational success. Provide training and resources to empower employees to recognize and address uncivil behavior effectively.
  3. Establish Clear Policies: Implement clear policies for addressing incivility in the workplace that are consistent with regulations. Encourage employees to report incidents of misconduct without fear of reprisal, and ensure swift and equitable resolution processes.
  4. Invest in Inclusion, Equity and Diversity (IE&D): Establishing effective IE&D programs can help foster a culture of belonging and respect for all employees. Provide education and resources to foster cultural competence and mitigate unconscious bias.
  5. Encourage Civil Conversations: Business leaders can promote civility by fostering civil conversations in the workplace. In 2024, SHRM is challenging organizations to launch 1 million civil conversations. Join the movement and make civility part of your culture.

For more information, learn how you can be a catalyst for civility in your organization.


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