Stick_Out_Tounge_at_PhoneMore and more in professional conversations I am hearing about a sudden lack of workplace manners. It seems that today’s casual business environment has, in some instances, endangered the professional nature of the workplace.

Common complaints include interruptions, foul language, gossip, cliques and caste systems, chronic lateness for meetings and appointments, conflicting directives, missed deadlines, ill-tempered voice mails, flaming e-mails, unreturned phone calls, short-tempered customer service reps, and crossing personal or professional boundaries.

Does your business suffer from any of these behaviors? According to one colleague and business coach, “The problem with rude behavior is that many people don’t realize it is a problem.” However, studies show that 12% of employees leave their workplace due to co-workers’ and supervisors’ rude behavior, and another 53% consider quitting because of it. Incivility illustrates a disregard for the rights and concerns of others and has a huge impact on morale, employee and customer retention and overall productivity. In the extreme, uncivil workplace behavior can instigate acts of violence and/or costly legal actions.

What’s the cause?

Experts cite a variety of causes for workplace incivility: overstressed and overworked employees, budget cuts, tension to do more with less, job insecurity, congested environments, fatigue, and increasing isolation from one another. However, attending to adjust one’s attitudes and actions can make a difference and pay off in big ways. For example, a cooperative study by Harvard University, The Carnegie Foundation, and the Stanford Research Institute showed that technical skills account for only 15% of why individuals get, keep, and advance in the work setting; 85% of professional success is related to people skills. Employee-focused surveys also offer the following results: more than 80% of workers think it is very important to work in a civil environment, and yet 38% of workers said their workplace was becoming more disrespectful.

How to fix it:

By making civility a priority within your organization and part of your culture, you can help develop more productive and professional work relationships; diffuse hostile work environments; foster mutual feelings of respect between co-workers and supervisors; improve self-esteem and teamwork; enhance problem solving; and increase trust on the whole.

On the macro level, management should model appropriate behavior and accountability. Civility guidelines can be set the same as dress codes or other workplace requirements. You might also consider evaluating and measuring civility like any other performance metric; working and playing well with others has a significant impact on individual and team performance. On the micro level, we should all take the time to observe civility in everyday situations. Follow the Golden Rule and do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Clean up after yourself. Don’t make promises you cannot keep. Be considerate of others’ time. Return messages. Don’t hesitate to say “Please,” “Thank You,” or “I’m Sorry.” Be patient. Speak to people as equals. Smile.


Mallary Tytel is president and founder of Healthy Workplaces, a national consulting firm that focuses on helping create healthy, productive and sustainable workplaces. Grounded in the theory and practice of complexity science and human systems dynamics, HW provides customized coaching, training and facilitation, centering on the critical areas of strategy, diversity and culture, developing women leaders, and the triple bottom line. Contact Mallary at or +1.860.874.7137.