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The Hidden Costs of Incivility in the Workplace

In the intricate tapestry of workplace dynamics, the threads of civility often go unnoticed until they start unraveling, leaving behind a tangle of discord and disengagement. Recent research from SHRM has unveiled a sobering reality: Incivility is not just a societal issue; it’s a pervasive force within our workplaces, exacting a toll on productivity, morale, and organizational health.

The Magnitude of Incivility

According to SHRM Research, 61% of U.S. workers have experienced or witnessed acts of incivility in their everyday lives over the past month alone. On average, this translates to more than one act of incivility per worker per day, totaling more than 171 million acts of incivility each day nationwide. Even more alarming is SHRM’s projection that by the end of 2024, U.S. workers are on track to collectively witness or experience nearly 62.8 billion acts of incivility at the current pace.

While incivility permeates various facets of life, the workplace is fertile ground for its proliferation. Notably, 56% of workers report encountering uncivil behavior in their professional environments, averaging nearly three acts per week. This translates to almost 68 million acts of workplace incivility per day and a projected 24.7 billion acts by year’s end at the current rate.

These workplace disruptions typically fall to people managers to resolve, but U.S. workers say most managers are not especially well-equipped to deal with incivility at work. Just one-quarter (25%) of U.S. employees say their managers and supervisors are effective or very effective at handling uncivil behavior in their workplace. On the other end of the spectrum, 17% of workers say their managers and supervisors are not effective at handling uncivil behavior.

The Fallout of Incivility

The repercussions of workplace incivility extend far beyond interpersonal squabbles. SHRM’s findings underscore the consensus among workers that incivility erodes productivity and dampens morale. A staggering 66% of workers attribute reduced productivity to incivility, while 59% believe it saps employee morale. HR leaders can play a crucial role in addressing this issue.

Making Civility a Cultural Cornerstone

As custodians of workplace culture, HR leaders possess a unique opportunity—and responsibility—to spearhead the movement toward enshrining civility within their organizations. Drawing insights from recent research, this article details actionable strategies for HR executives to cultivate a culture of civility as an antidote to the prevailing wave of workplace incivility.

Here are six ways HR leaders can tackle the persistent challenge of promoting workplace civility within their organization.

  • Embed Civility in Policies: Policies serve as the framework upon which organizational culture is built. HR leaders must ensure that policies and procedures reflect and reinforce the values of respect and civility. From recruitment and onboarding processes to performance evaluations and disciplinary procedures, HR policy should be committed to fostering a respectful and inclusive workplace environment. By making civility the cornerstone of policy, HR can then build a culture of respect.
  • Train People Managers: People managers are the linchpin between organizational values and day-to-day interactions. HR leaders must prioritize training programs to equip people managers with the needed skills to navigate incivility effectively. Training should emphasize the importance of empathy and active listening in addressing incivility. Managers must cultivate the ability to empathize with the aggrieved party and the offender, seeking to understand underlying motivations and perspectives while remaining neutral and impartial.
  • Cultivate Emotional Intelligence: At the heart of civility lies emotional intelligence—the ability to recognize, understand, and manage emotions, both in ourselves and in others. HR leaders must prioritize cultivating emotional intelligence among leaders and employees alike. This can be achieved through targeted training and development programs that build self-awareness, empathy, and effective communication skills. HR lays the groundwork for a workplace culture characterized by mutual respect and understanding by equipping individuals with the tools to navigate interpersonal dynamics with grace and compassion.
  • Promote Inclusion, Equity, and Diversity (IE&D): IE&D is essential for a civil workplace. HR leaders must actively promote diversity and inclusion initiatives that ensure everyone feels valued and respected, regardless of their background, identity, or perspective. HR cultivates an environment where civility thrives naturally by fostering a culture where diverse voices are heard, celebrated, and empowered.
  • Create Space for Healthy Discourse: Effective communication is the lifeblood of a civil workplace. HR leaders should create platforms for open and constructive dialogue where diverse viewpoints can be expressed respectfully, and disagreements can be resolved amicably. By developing a culture of civil discourse, HR empowers employees to engage in meaningful exchanges that foster understanding, collaboration, and innovation.
  • Lead by Example: HR leaders must lead by example, embodying the values of civility in their interactions and decision-making. By modeling respectful behavior and holding themselves to the highest standards of conduct, HR sets the tone for the entire organization. Leadership commitment to civility sends a powerful message that respectful behavior is not just encouraged—it’s expected.

Making Respect a Priority

The epidemic of workplace incivility is not insurmountable, but addressing it requires concerted effort and unwavering commitment from HR leaders. By prioritizing a culture of respect and civility, organizations can mitigate the hidden costs of incivility and foster a more engaged, productive, and resilient workforce. As we confront the challenges of a rapidly evolving workplace landscape, let us heed the call to cultivate workplaces where respect is not just an aspiration but a lived reality.

Learn more about civility in the workplace and SHRM’s efforts to inspire 1 Million Civil Conversations.


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