It pays to be civil, Thunderbird professor says at conference
Companies pay for the little acts of rudeness that often go unchecked or unrecognized in the workplace, Thunderbird School of Global Management Professor Christine Pearson, Ph.D., said Aug. 10 at a global conference in Anaheim, Calif.
“It’s important to build a business case for addressing workplace incivility,” Pearson said after serving as a discussion panelist at the 68th annual meeting of the Academy of Management, an association of about 18,000 scholars and business leaders from 102 nations. “Though managers and executives want to do the right thing, it’s much easier to find the financial support and resources when they have the evidence that incivility really does affect the bottom line.”
Pearson and University of Southern California researcher Christine Porath, Ph.D., put a decade of research into their new book, “The Price of Bad Behavior ” which makes a business case for workplace civility. The book, scheduled for release in 2009, explores the causes and outcomes of incivility and shares strategies for resolving minor situations before they spiral into something major.
“People can cause others to feel like they’ve been treated uncivilly even if they didn’t intend to cause offense,” said Pearson, a professor of management at Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, Ariz. “In terms of dark forces in the workplace, incivility is on the low end of intensity.”
Pearson said incivility can be as low-key as passing a coworker in the hallway without saying hello, making a sarcastic comment in a staff meeting, or ignoring an e-mail request for information from a person in another department.
Other panelists in the academy workshop, called “The Dark Side of Employees’ Behavior,” shared expertise on more blatant forms of workplace misbehavior such as sexual harassment, bullying and revenge.
At the extreme end of the continuum, employee misbehavior can culminate in workplace violence and even homicide. But such extreme behavior is rare.
Incivility, on the other hand, is common. Pearson said her research shows that more than 90 percent of workers have been targets of incivility, and the numbers are rising.
“It’s very common for people to say that they experience incivility every single day on their job,” she said.
That’s why it is important to establish the link between incivility and profits.
“There is tremendous advantage to being able to show organizations the cost benefit of fostering civility in the workplace,” she said. “As managers learn about the costs to their organizations, they become interested in this phenomenon.”
Pearson said researchers also need to start approaching incivility from a global perspective. Business managers live in a global environment, she said, yet most researchers who study incivility limit their focus to their home countries.
“At most they go to maybe two or three countries,” Pearson said. “I think there is great value in taking what we now know in terms of cross-cultural differences -- global value differences, global behavior differences -- and thinking about how to intermesh that with incivility research.”
She said that has become her focus at Thunderbird.
“When you’re working in areas where values, norms and customs are different, there will be different definitions of what it means to be uncivil,” she said. “It’s very likely that people’s responses to incivility will be different, as well, from one culture to another.”