What Causes Incivility In The workplace? (Consequences, Preventative Measures, And Management Responsibilities)

Uncivil behaviors in the work environment have been a significant issue for organizations and small businesses.   Several studies indicate that if you have been a victim of incivility, for instance, if someone is rude to you or you experience rudeness, you will likely make mistakes on the job.

So, what causes incivility in the workplace? Low morale among employees, stress, hostile workplace among others are major causes for uncivil behaviors in the work environment. When employees are not happy or when they perceived their jobs are not being recognized and appreciated, they tend to exhibit stress and hostility, and thus incivility.

A recent surveyOpens in a new tab. conducted in the US, the main contributors of incivility in the workplace are senior employees(6%), denial of worker rights (24%), Internet access (25%), young employees(34%), competitiveness (44%), economy (46%), employees(59%), and leaders in the workplace (65%). Also, a survey instituted by the US news and world report,Opens in a new tab. 9 out of 10 Americans hold that incivility is a serious issue and 78% of the votes says the problem has gone worse over the past decade.

Knowing these causes of incivility, their consequences and preventive measures could help business leaders and managers adopt holistic approaches to stop incivility and reinforce a friendly atmosphere.

Management styles differ, as well as team managing skills adopted by several business leaders to achieve targets and meet deadlines. In such a situation, unnecessary pressure is applied to the team to get the best performance out of them. This may sometimes produce positive outcomes in terms of achieving set goals, but in most cases hurt the team. Employees are stressed and aggressive. Peradventure they fail to meet target and deadline, employers could become aggressive and find who to transfer the aggression on. This essence of this article is to highlight the causes, consequences and preventive measures for dealing with incivility in the workplace.

Incivility in the Workplace

In a work environment where people have impolite manners and are self-serving, uncivil behaviors tend to be very rampant. Such kind of individuals works with selfish and manipulative motives thereby causing severe irritation to their colleagues.

Incivility is not always being polite. For instance, a general manager may send a note saying, ‘You better improve on your performance or I will fire you,’ to an employee performing below requirements. In this situation, the boss may have a genuine intention to improve the efficiency of that employee. In a pleasant work environment, anger may be expressed by well-intentioned individuals who aspire to ensure the company makes progress. This cannot be termed workplace incivility. Workplace bullying is a higher degree of workplace incivility.

Examples of Workplace Incivility

1. Raising your voice and trying to distract other people from concentrating.

2. Sending demeaning notes via SMS or email.

3. Accusing others using bad words

4. Undermining personal work performance before everyone.

5. Deliberately ignoring some team members in crucial meetings.

6. Masterminding disruption during sessions

7. Not commending the right employee as a result of personal issues.

Causes of Incivility

1. Mismatched Team Members

Team members are meant to be matched putting into considerations several factors. First, competencies to perform and complete tasks assigned successfully and second, their work drives and unique personalities should match or complement other team members. When personalities mismatch exists, or if there are incompetent team members, a breeding ground for incivility, you have a breeding platform for incivility.

2. Low Employee Morale

Low employee morale has been discovered to be a significant cause of incivility in the workplace. If employees are not happy on the job or feel their efforts are not being appreciated, they will likely exhibit hostility towards others and signs of stress. This tendency will increase if others are being appreciated and recognized. Create an atmosphere of fairness and identify employees equally and individually. Watch out for low morale and do everything you can to boost it.

3. Workplace Stress

You cannot rule incivility out in a stressed environment. Project failures, looming deadlines, long work days, long stretches with no time off can make an employee to be stressed out and consequently display inappropriate actions both to customers and fellow workers. Some stress cannot be ruled out in some jobs. Nevertheless, employees can be trained on how to manage stress thus keeping it at a manageable level.

4. Bad Employees

There are some rude people at the end of the spectrum. They may not have developed coping skills as adults, and they may find it difficult working with a team. Misconduct and incivility can spread like wildfire than flu in a workplace if left unaddressed. Normally, polite employees may sometimes snap at others. Incivility is contagious!

In this situation, the best action to take is to check for signs of one worker having issues with others and isolate them to address the issue. If there is a persistence in their behavior, or if they are finding it challenging to change, you may consider them seeking employment elsewhere.

From the Human Resource and disgruntled ex-employees perspective, uncivil behavior could be traced to ten areas-

1. Pay cut: It has been discovered that implementing incessant pay-cuts was one of the factors that contribute to workplace incivility.

2. Part-time Employees: Recruiting part-time workers when you already have full-time employee could trigger incivility. The existing full-time workers become uncertain about their employment and career future.

Other factors such as dismissals, working on a contract basis, outsourcing of employees and job hopping can cause job insecurity. This may make them misbehave at work and increase the level of incivility.

3. Freezing payments; Implement budget-cutting and freezing staff payments could create a hostile work environment for an employee.

4. Changing Managers: Every manager has a unique managerial style that employees are used too. This has also informed their efficiency and overall productivity over the year. Making sudden changes could significantly reduce employee engagement level

5. Hostile workplace: An unfriendly workplace is an environment where unwelcome conduct and comments based on nationality, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, age or other legally secured features unnecessarily influence the performance of employees. Such workplace creates an offensive or intimidating environment.

6. High Temperature:  According to the Workplace Regulations(health, safety, and welfare) 1992, employers must ensure a consistent temperature in the workplace, though there was no specification of the maximum temperature. The minimum is however 16°C, or 13°C if the work involves physical activity. If the temperature is high, workers will be tensed and may be aggressive.

7. Poor Ventilation: Poor office ventilation can induce excessive moisture and unpleasant smells. This could affect the health of the employees.

8. Temperament: An individual’s personality can make him/her both a culprit as well as a victim of incivility behaviors. People possessing less ability to self-regulate, may sometimes lose their temper and can exhibit impulsiveness, whereby they could employ coercive actions and verbal slurs.

9. Corporate Environmental Factors: Factors such as lack of trust among employees, less loyalty to the business, salary conflicts, short-term profitability, etc. can lead to workplace incivility.

Informal corporate culture can cause ambiguity about the thresholds for interpersonal interactions and its tolerance.

10. Cultural differences: Incivility could be caused by cultural and subcultural differences


1. Poor health

2. Depression and poor self-esteem

3. The low productivity in the workplace

4. Poor interpersonal relationships

5. No loyalty and commitment

Preventive measures

1. Rationalize your thoughts. This is also known as making excuses for other behaviors. It is a defensive mechanism deployed in logically justifying controversial feelings or actions to avoid its correct explanation.

2. Follow the fundamental basic workplace etiquette and judge your attitude. Establish a code of conducts to govern the expectations of behaviors in the workplace. Although, there may be some level of variations, ensure you bring every department together to reach a consensus on what is deemed acceptable and what is not.

3. Treat your colleagues with the utmost respect and the way you want to be treated. When compliance is increased, communication is improved between employees, teamwork is also reinforced, and stress is reduced as peace increases in the work environment. This will bring about increased productivity, understanding, and knowledge.

4. Discourage spreading of rumors about your colleagues. Some suggestions in the work environment are borne out of job insecurity and instability. Discourage your workers from reporting salacious information about their colleagues. When people don’t have sufficient information, they most times fill in the gap. Don’t make your business place a breeding  ground for gossip

5. Establish and maintain workplace standards and reinforce professionalism.

6. Cooperate with your team members and work with all your heart for the company.

Nine Incivility Management Responsibilities

1. Recruit well-mannered individuals

2. Evaluate employee’s performance without prejudice and bias and give commensurate incentives

3. Add civility sessions during the training section organized for new employees.

4. Don’t display any partiality between your workers.

5. Variation in remuneration is a significant cause of incivility. Increase pay to the right and deserving candidate.

6. Don’t increase/ decrease payment of a candidate because you like/dislike them

7. Treat your workers with respect and dignity.

8. Do not ignore suggestions from employees on how to enhance the overall corporate efficiency.

9. Don’t increase the employee’s workload beyond a reasonable level.

Related Questions

What are the effects of incivility? Any form of mistreatment, barbed words or dismissive gestures can result in a reduction in job dissatisfaction, stress, and deterioration in health.

What are the preventive measures against incivility in the workplace? Companies should establish best practices based on research to prevent incivility and disrespect. Also, establish a code of conduct for your business.

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