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Creating Workplace Civility: Why Courtesy is Critical for Businesses


Creating a culture of civility and respect among employees is critical for a business to be successful, according to one workplace behavior expert.

Deborah Rinner, director of international protocol and corporate etiquette for Tero International, said one simple act of rudeness can have a wide range of negative impacts in the workplace — reaching far beyond the employees involved, costing a business time and money.

“It can be very damaging,” Rinner told BusinessNewsDaily. “It affects the bottom line, and can actually force people to change jobs.”

Rinner cites statistics from the book "The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility Is Damaging Your Business and What To Do About It" (Portfolio, 2009) by Christine Pearson and Christine Porath, on how a single incident of incivility in the workplace can result in:

  • 48 percent of affected employees intentionally decreasing their work effort.
  • 47 percent intentionally decreasing their time at work.
  • 80 percent losing work time worrying about the incident.
  • 63 percent losing productivity avoiding the offender.

The research also showed that 78 percent of affected employees were less committed to their organization after the incident, and 12 percent actually go so far as to change jobs.

It’s often small incidents — like complaining about someone to everyone else without telling the person directly, or being short in conversation or rude in an email — that can do the most damage and quickly spread throughout a business like a virus, Rinner said.

“There needs to be a consciousness of how we are affecting other people and our environment,” she said.  “Communication is at the root of it.”

Because they have fewer employees , Rinner said smaller businesses often can be affected more drastically by incivility than a large corporation, where employees can be moved around to different departments as a way of avoiding conflicts.

“In a small business, that is not an option, so those interactions are even more important,” Rinner said.

It is up to the employer to clearly define what behaviors will and won’t be tolerated, and to educate employees on how to communicate with others to avoid creating negative patterns, she said.

“We need to be able to openly communicate things, as opposed to keeping it inside or being passive-aggressive,” Rinner said.

Other tips for employers that are offered in Pearson and Porath’s book, Rinner said, include listening to and understanding coworkers’ perspectives without interrupting, communicating critical feedback with consideration, assuming everyone has the best motives and by maintain objectivity during conflict.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer who has nearly 15 years' experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.