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Workplace incivility

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Title: Workplace incivility  
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Subject: Workplace bullying, Workplace harassment, Social undermining, Bullying in medicine, Whistleblower
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Workplace incivility

Workplace incivility has been defined as low-intensity deviant behavior with ambiguous intent to harm the target. Uncivil behaviors are characteristically rude and discourteous, displaying a lack of regard for others.[1] The authors hypothesize there is an "incivility spiral" in the workplace made worse by "asymmetric global interaction".[1]

Incivility is distinct from violence. The reduction of workplace incivility is a fertile area for applied psychology research.

Surveys on occurrence and effects

A summary of research conducted in Europe suggests that workplace incivility is common there.[2] In research on more than 1000 U.S. civil service workers, Cortina, Magley, Williams, and Langhout (2001) found that more than 70% of the sample experienced workplace incivility in the past five years.[2] Similarly, Laschinger, Leiter, Day, and Gilin found that among 612 staff nurses, 67.5% had experienced incivility from their supervisors and 77.6% had experienced incivility from their coworkers.[3] In addition, they found that low levels of incivility along with low levels of [3] Compared to men, women were more exposed to incivility.

Incivility was associated with [5]

Subtle/covert examples

Examples at the more subtle end of the spectrum include:[1]

  • asking for input and then ignoring it
  • "forgetting" to share credit for a collaborative work
  • giving somebody a "dirty look"
  • interrupting others
  • not listening
  • side conversations during a formal business meeting/presentation
  • speaking with a condescending tone
  • waiting impatiently over someone's desk to gain their attention

Overt examples

Somewhere between the extremes are numerous everyday examples of workplace rudeness and impropriety such as:[6]

  • disrespecting workers by comments, gestures or proven behaviors (hostility) based on characteristics such as their race, religion, gender, etc. This is considered workplace discrimination.
  • disrupting meetings
  • emotional put-downs
  • giving dirty looks or other negative eye contact (i.e. "hawk eyes" considered to be threatening in the culture of the United States)
  • giving public reprimands
  • giving the silent treatment
  • insulting others
  • making accusations about professional competence
  • not giving credit where credit is due
  • overruling decisions without giving a reason
  • sending a nasty and demeaning note (hate mail)
  • talking about someone behind his or her back
  • undermining credibility in front of others

Other overt forms of incivility might include emotional tirades and losing one's temper.[6]

Corporate symptoms of long term incivility

  1. Higher than normal employee turnover.[7]
  2. A large number of employee grievances and complaints.[7]
  3. Lost work time by employees calling in sick.[7]
  4. Increased consumer complaints.[7]
  5. Diminished productivity in terms of quality and quantity of work.[7]
  6. Cultural and communications barriers.[7]
  7. Lack of confidence in leadership.[7]
  8. Inability to adapt effectively to change.[7]
  9. Lack of individual accountability.[7]
  10. Lack of respect.[7]

Related notions

Workplace bullying

Workplace bullying overlaps to some degree with workplace incivility but tends to encompass more intense and typically repeated acts of disregard and rudeness. Negative spirals of increasing incivility between organizational members can result in bullying,[8] but isolated acts of incivility are not conceptually bullying despite the apparent similarity in their form and content. In case of bullying, the intent of harm is less ambiguous, an unequal balance of power (both formal and informal) is more salient, and the target of bullying feels threatened, vulnerable and unable to defend himself or herself against negative recurring actions.[9][10]

Petty authority

Another related notion is petty tyranny, which also involves a lack of consideration towards others, although petty tyranny is more narrowly defined as a profile of leaders and can also involve more severe forms of abuse of power and of authority.[1]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Andersson, Lynne M.; Pearson, Christine M. (July 1999). " 
  2. ^ a b Cortina, Lilia M.; Magley, Vicki J.; Williams, Jill Hunter; Langhout, Regina Day (2001). "Incivility in the workplace: Incidence and impact". Journal of Occupational Health Psychology 6 (1): 64–80.  
  3. ^ a b Laschinger, Heather K. Spence.; Leiter, Michael; Day, Arla; Gilin, Debra (2009). "Workplace empowerment, incivility, and burnout: Impact on staff nurse recruitment and retention outcomes". Journal of Nursing Management 17 (3): 302–11.   [1]
  4. ^ Christine M. Pearson, Christine L. Porath (2004). "On Incivility, Its Impact and Directions for Future Research". In Ricky W. Griffin and Anne O'Leary-Kelly. The Dark Side of Organizational Behavior. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 403–404.  
  5. ^ Christine M. Pearson, Christine L. Porath (2004). "On Incivility, Its Impact and Directions for Future Research". In Ricky W. Griffin and Anne O'Leary-Kelly. The Dark Side of Organizational Behavior. John Wiley & Sons. p. 412.  
  6. ^ a b Johnson, Pamela R.; Indvik, Julie (2001). "Slings and arrows of rudeness: incivility in the workplace". Journal of Management Development 20 (8): 705–714.  
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "9 signs your work place needs civility, 6 steps to achieve it - TechJournal". Retrieved 25 September 2014. 
  8. ^ Beale, Diane (2001). "Monitoring bullying in the workplace". In Tehrani, Noreen. Building a culture of respect: managing bullying at work. London: Routledge. pp. 77–94.  
  9. ^ Rayner, Charlotte; Hoel, Helge; Cooper, Cary L. (2002). Workplace bullying: what we know, who is to blame, and what can we do?. London: Routledge.  
  10. ^ Peyton, Pauline Rennie (2003). Dignity at work: eliminate bullying and create a positive working environment. London: Brunner-Routledge.  

Further reading


  • Bunk JA The role of appraisals, emotions, and coping in understanding experiences of workplace incivility (2007)
  • Gallus JA Assertive coping with workplace incivility (2005)
  • Kelley S Dishonorable treatment: workplace incivility, cultures of honor (2007)
  • Kirk BA The role of emotional self-efficacy and emotional intelligence in workplace incivility and workplace satisfaction (2006)
  • Lee AYH Will workplace incivility result in work-family spillover?, Singapore Management University. School of Social Sciences (2008)
  • Liptrot G Experiences of workplace incivility: outcomes and moderating influences of coping style, social support and negative affect (2005)
  • Loi NM Sex differences in workplace incivility and sexual harassment: (2006)
  • Martin R Development and validation of the scale of workplace incivility (2004)
  • Milam AC Individual differences and perceptions of workplace incivility (2006)
  • Penney LM Workplace incivility and counterproductive workplace behavior (CWB): what is the relationship and does personality play a role? (2002)
  • Polson SC Examining who and why: testing a moderated mediational model of workplace incivility (2008)
  • Preston M Creating conflict: antecedents of workplace incivility (2007)
  • Riley RP Coping with workplace incivility: effects on retaliatory behaviors (2005)
  • Schmitt CM Examining the relationship between social allergens, counterproductive work behaviors, and workplace incivility (2006)
  • Settles RL Understanding the presence of workplace incivility in K–12 schools: perceptions and responses from teachers (2008)
  • Simmons DC Organizational culture, workplace incivility, and turnover: (2008)
  • Smith DJ Workplace incivility and emotional labor in hospital nurses (2007)
  • Windhorst SM Workplace incivility and the low-status target (2006)

Academic papers

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