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The Cost of Workplace Incivility: April 2024 EN:Insights Forum

Civility in the workplace can encourage inclusivity, bridge divides, and build understanding, one conversation at a time. Respectful, productive dialogues can fuel collaboration and productivity, but incivility can do just the opposite. SHRM Executive Network members got a closer look at SHRM’s research on civility at work during the April 2024 EN:Insights Forum. Uncivil conflicts in the workplace increase turnover, deflate morale, and create significant business risks and costs, according to new SHRM research.

“Organizations may be missing out on their next great idea just because workers in their workforce feel the climate is uncivil and that it may not support these great ideas,” said SHRM Senior Researcher Derrick Scheetz.

Here are five key research insights from the EN:Insights Forum discussion.

Research Insight 1: Incivility at work is prevalent.

  • 66% of workers surveyed said they had experienced or witnessed incivility at work in the past month.
  • 57% of those workers said they had experienced or witnessed incivility at work in the past week.
  • 55% of those workers said the uncivil behaviors they observed were consistently committed by the same person or group.

Research Insight 2: Incivility takes a wide variety of forms. The most common acts cited by survey respondents who reported experiencing or witnessing incivility in the past month include:

  • Addressing others disrespectfully—36%
  • Interrupting or silencing others while speaking—34%
  • Excessive monitoring or micromanaging—32%
  • Ignoring others or paying little attention to others—30%
  • Unprofessional or disrespectful body language—30%
  • Dismissing others on their competencies, skills, or expertise—30%
  • Publicly criticizing, embarrassing, or demeaning others—28%
  • Using intimidating communication—28%
  • Mocking or joking about personal characteristics or stereotypes—24%
  • Excluding others from being part of interactions/decisions that impact them—22%
  • Taking credit for the work of others—21%
  • Bullying, or intentionally targeting workers to continually harass them—19%

Research Insight 3: Both workers and HR professionals report negative business outcomes in uncivil workplaces. Workers who rate their workplaces as uncivil are:

  • Three times more likely to be dissatisfied with their job.
  • Twice as likely to leave their job in the next year.
  • One-and-a-half times less likely to say the organization supports innovation.
  • Twice as likely to have high or very high turnover.

Research Insight 4: If managers are unaware of incivility, it becomes much harder to address unwanted behaviors. Workers say that people managers and senior management are the most important figures when it comes to creating a culture of civility.

  • Nearly half (49%) of workers who experienced or witnessed incivility did NOT report it to HR or their manager.
  • U.S. workers believe that people managers and senior management are the most important groups to their organization achieving a culture of civility.

Research Insight 5: Senior business professionals need to start thinking about how they will prepare their workforces to proactively address incivility before it reaches a boiling point and damages their workplaces.

Expecting to see workplace conflict increase in the next 12 months:

  • U.S. workers: 33%
  • HR professionals: 39%

Brian Dickens: Not Accepting a New Normal of Incivility

Brian Dickens is the CHRO for the University of Tennessee System, where he plans, develops, and implements statewide initiatives that support employee engagement. He previously served at Ithaca College, Texas Southern University, the University of Houston, and Prairie View A&M University.

“We have to think about how many generations we have in a workplace and what our experiences may have been coming up. We have a younger workforce now that’s coming in the door, and they are demanding and expecting a civil workplace. They’re looking for a civil environment to be a part of, and we sometimes miss the mark when we think our old standards still rule the day, and they just don’t,” he said.

Dickens joined the forum for a Q&A session on creating a culture of civility in the workplace:


How do you define civility in the workplace, and is it more about avoiding negative behaviors or more about embracing positive ones?


I think it starts with the notion of good citizenship, with this idea of us having a certain collective accountability as a community of what I would call good citizens, layered with mutual decency in terms of how we interact. I think respect and consideration would be the way that I would define civility: being able to have civil discourse.


Back in 2002 in his book “Choosing Civility,” Pier Massimo Forni puts a term out called “mutuality.” By treating you the best way I know, I appeal to the best of you, urging you to do the same. It’s also a moral choice, the idea that it’s a sum of sacrifices that we all make.



Is civility a bigger concern than it was, or are we just more aware of it?


Civility was covered in publications going back to 1999 in terms of stability, but recently in society at the highest ranks we’ve seen incivility accepted, and that’s given license to people to be less civil in their interactions. That’s what we’re seeing bubble up in what we have allowed to be acceptable behavior, and that’s carrying over into the workplace.


I don’t think it’s a bigger issue. I think it’s less called out and that we’re not holding each other accountable enough in today’s environment because it’s become the norm, and incivil behaviors are expected.

What do you recommend that CHROs can do to get buy-in from their CEOS or their board to bring about a focus on workplace civility?

At the end of the day, leaders are concerned about the bottom line, so we’ve got to make the business case about the cost of incivility and its impact on turnover. This new SHRM research supports that clearly. When you talk about turnover, about people filling unsafe work, and the idea that if the cost of civility is showing up in normal HR metrics like turnover rate or a job satisfaction or employee engagement surveys, it impacts innovation, engagement, and productivity.

We have to paint that picture for CEOs and boards in a tangible way where we can say this is where we’re spending more time in rehabilitating or hiring new people, and that’s becoming increasingly difficult because of our reputation.

Based on your experience at the University of Tennessee, what are the biggest challenges and surprises in terms of instilling civility?

We’re seeing the differences in the mindset of a generation that comes into the workplace with expectations of, “This is how you will treat me.” We’ve got to reckon with the idea that the workforce today has a different awareness around choice and can go anywhere. The younger generation has this greater expectation of a civil environment at work, and when that’s not their experience, chances are your turnover rates will go up and your organizational brand suffers.

I think the biggest surprise is the willingness the younger generations have to be vocal about incivility and being freer to just call it out, whereas people who are more seasoned in their career, they sort of hunker down and say, “Well, you know how that person is and you just got to work through it.” I think this younger generation is truly forcing us to rethink norms and our existing cultures.


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