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Incivility in the Workplace is a Growing Problem, Here's how to Combat It

By Columns FOXBusiness

Americans today are working harder than ever just to make ends meet. Because we are working longer hours and having to do more with less, its only natural that tensions in the workplace are going to run high, often resulting in frustration and conflict.

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According to the 2011 Incivility in America survey, 65% of Americans believe incivility is a major problem in this country. Whether its unruly reality stars or  road-raged drivers, we seem to be surrounded by incivility.

As last weeks article covered, incivility can be particularly problematic when it comes to the workplace. So to find out more, I wanted to hear what you had to say, and the results from the survey were very telling.

What You Said About Incivility

Last weeks article asked readers to take a brief, informal survey on workplace incivility. There were 584 respondents with a 50/50 male/female split. Of the respondents, 56% identified themselves as baby boomers and 31% were GenXers. Here are some highlights:

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-50% of respondents said theyve experienced a great amount of incivility at work, 44% said some and only 6% said none at all;

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-45% said the amount of incivility has risen in their workplace since the recession started, and 54% said the recession is to blame at least to some extent for the bad behavior;

-50% reported the morale in their workplace is poor;

-Although most feel incivility is an issue at work, 63% feel its worse in Congress!

Less Incivility and More Support

On the flip side of the incivility issue is emotional support. One of the greatest drivers of relationships is proximity. With that said,

we spend most of our waking hours immersed in our work environment and therefore tend to develop our most significant relationships with our coworkers. One way to combat the natural tensions that can drive incivility at work is to bolster our support networks.   

A recent study published in Health Psychology found that access to emotional support at work was predictive of longevity. Dr. Sharon Toker and her colleagues tracked 820 adults for two-decades and found that those with low social support at work were 2.4X more likely to die sometime within the  span of the study. Bottom line, when dealing with incivility and negativity at work, be sure to turn to your support networks.

What to Do

Although weve established that workplace incivility is a problem, many organizations fail to recognize it. Not only that, but management doesnt always understand its harmful effects and/or doesnt know how to deal with the problem.

Workplace incivility is a vicious cycle that is hard to stop. No one benefits from incivility in the long term. Combating it is something everyone needs to participate in for changes to be instituted. Here are some suggestions:

-Role Modeling: Just as children imitate their parents, employees tend to role model the behaviors of their bosses. Leaders set the tone of an organization, and if they dont take the issue of civility seriously, employees probably wont either.

-Training: In the 2011 Incivility in the Workplace survey, 67% of Americans polled reported the need for civility training in the workplace. Any new employee orientation should include an organizational culture component that addresses civility. Orientation is a great time to set expectations about behavior and let new employees know appropriate vs. inappropriate ways of interacting.

-Off-site Retreats: Im a big believer in extracting teams from their work environment and allowing them the opportunity to actually get to know each other. To be clear, an off-site event doesnt have to be fancy or far away. Also, it doesnt need to include ropes courses or jungle-gym type activities. Its more about facilitating conversations. Most people dont take the time to stop and actually talk about their work and how their role impacts others. Take the time to facilitate conversations about team challenges and encourage group discussion about solutions. 

Social support has always been a critical component to well being. We all need support systems to fall back on in times of need. When it comes to encouraging support at work, I firmly believe its the responsibility of managers to take the lead. By carving out time to focus on developing interpersonal relationships, managers send a signal to the team that relationships are important.

Michael Dr. Woody Woodward, PhD is a CEC certified executive coach trained in organizational psychology. Dr. Woody is author of The YOU Plan: A 5-step Guide to Taking Charge of Your Career in the New Economy and is the founder of Human Capital Integrated (HCI), a firm focused on management and leadership development. Dr. Woody also sits on the advisory board of the Florida International University Center for Leadership.Follow Dr. Woody on Twitter and Facebook 

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