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Incivility in the Workplace and its Impact on Business

Kim McCarthy

Featuring CoBA faculty member Dr. Kim McCarthy

Research Background

My research is primarily focused on understanding, examining, and exploring interpersonal communication at work. Much of my recent research has investigated computer-mediated interaction and face-to-face communication across a variety of contexts, such as under conditions of incivility. Incivility, or violating norms for mutual respect, is of particular interest to me because of its pervasiveness in our fast-paced profit-driven business environment. Both through the stories of my students, and from my own experiences working in industry, I know that rude behavior often becomes ‘the norm’ in offices and inboxes around the globe. Through my research, I have been able to systematically study the effects of uncivil behavior on business outcomes.

Incivility's Impact on Business Productivity

Prior research on incivility has shown that it has many negative emotional and attitudinal consequences for employees. Among these are increased stress and irritability, as well as decreased job satisfaction. Furthermore, when employees become dissatisfied with their job, they are more likely to quit, which is a concerning cost for many businesses. Adding to the seriousness of these indirect consequences, research has more recently shown that incivility also has damaging direct effects on employees’ actual job performance. Several studies, including my own research, show that exposure to rude behavior does measurable damage to our ability to do work. It interferes with our ability to focus, limits our capacity to remember information correctly, and takes time to process and get over, all of which, inhibits our performance on the job.

Future Implications and Follow- Up Research

Over the past ten years, as the business community becomes more aware of the consequences of incivility, I am more frequently asked about civility. Managers wonder, “What can I do promote civility and respect where I work?” or “Civility is important to me, what can I do to encourage it from my coworkers?” These are important questions that my research, thus far, has not addressed. Moving forward, I would like to more specifically focus on examining civility and what a culture of civility means for employees. The present economic and social climate is a perfect place to start exploring how workplace communication is already changing. My goal is to add to our understanding of how teams and individuals can sustain high-level performance while maintaining a civil and respectful workplace.