Does Uncivil Behavior Threaten Your Employee Retention?

BY Kathy Crosett
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Who can blame anyone for feeling dazed and confused after our experiences during the past 18 months? The pandemic disrupted our personal and professional lives. Some employees had to deal with the stress of watching the COVID-​19 virus attack loved ones. And other team members are still juggling the demands of hybrid work, commuting or locating reliable childcare. After all this stress, if one of your employees encounters a couple of negative events in a day, it might be more than they can handle. But when they erupt into the chaos of uncivil behavior, it impacts everyone around them.

Uncivil Behavior

Korn Ferry is out with a new survey on the topic of uncivil behavior. You’ve probably already noticed what the researchers uncovered. “A remote workforce is not necessary a more civil workforce.” In fact, the nature of remote work might lull some people into thinking they can treat co-​workers the same way they handle complete strangers who have opposing stances on various topics cresting on social media. What we need to remember is that social media sites build algorithms designed to highlight conflict because it draws attention, and therefore, traffic.

Conflict in the workplace attracts attention too, but it ruins productivity. And employees who have been the target of uncivil behavior are apt to look for a new job at another company as soon as they can. The Korn Ferry Research shows that 59% of employees believe their co-​workers are ruder than they were before COVID-​19 turned everything upside down.

What defines uncivil behavior in a remote work environment? In video calls, you may hear one employee interrupt the person who’s currently speaking. Or you may notice that some co-​workers aren’t responding to your emails. And then there’s the office chat system. How many times have you received a communication with a sharp tone?

Employee Response to Uncivil Behavior

Most employees don’t respond well to this treatment. At least 78% “find it difficult to focus on work” when they are on the receiving end of rude behavior. Many times, the discourteous person isn’t aware of how they are coming across. Or, they may have received three simultaneous urgent requests for information on the office chat system while they are trying to finish a report. As they rush to answer a question, they forget to use basic courtesy.

The unfortunate outcome of these interaction is that 83% of employees will try to avoid a rude co-​worker. And we can imagine this avoidance becomes increasingly prevalent if they are routinely on the receiving end of harsh or authoritatively worded messages on the office chat system.

The more urgent statistic from this report is that 75% of employees have considered “quitting a job due to a rude colleague or boss.”

Management Action

How closely have you been watching the interaction between your team members? Has one of your reps been particularly outspoken on team video meetings?

The problem of rudeness at work isn’t anything new, but the pandemic has exacerbated the problem. In a study conducted two years ago by Shannon Taylor and several colleagues, managers surfaced as part of the problem in what could be considered a   pandemic of rudeness.

Managers are often overworked and striving to set goals and meet them for the department and each team member. They step in to help with troublesome customers. And they want to help each employee develop professionally. Sales managers have little time to deal with the kind of behavior that should have been left behind in middle school.

Unfortunately, when they witness rude behavior, they often blame the victim “even when they’ve done nothing wrong.” The researchers suggest the best solution to the problem is specific training on how to “distinguish between relevant and irrelevant behavior.”  A good sales manager training program should incorporate this element.

Once you become aware of your own biases and learn to assess each situation, you can help team members reduce their uncivil behavior. Keep in mind that you’re also a role model for your employees. If you take three days to answer an email, they’ll feel comfortable doing the same. Before you respond on the office chat with a sharply worded response to a question, slow down. Wait five minutes and consider how the recipient to that message will respond.

You can increase retention by actively working to create a culture of respect in your department and your organization.

Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels