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  • Writer's pictureDr. Vera Alves

Lack of Respect in the Workplace: Sound familiar?

While most of us know the importance of treating colleagues and people in general appropriately and professionally, the reality is that it doesn’t always stay this way. Some experts believe that poor workplace behavior is on the rise. In a study including thousands of workers polled over 14 years in the U.S. and Canada, 98% of participants reported experiencing uncivil behavior in the workplace.[1] Incivility negatively impacts a work environment and has tangible economic costs for businesses.[1] It erodes engagement and morale.[1] It also drags down performance, damages the immune system, puts a strain on families, and produces many other detrimental effects.[2] In this blog post, we will break down what incivility means, provide concrete examples of uncivil behaviors, and give you tips on creating a healthier work environment.

What is Incivility?

Incivility refers to low-intensity deviant workplace behaviors with an ambiguous intent to harm.[3] Some examples of uncivil behaviors include being rude or unpleasant towards another person, dismissing someone’s opinion in a meeting, talking down to others, making demeaning remarks, etc. Incivility can be subtle or bolder and more aggressive. Either way, the result is a person who has been disrespected or outright insulted, which can leave a lasting mark.

Forms of Incivility

Incivility comes in different forms. It might look different depending on the individuals involved and the circumstances at hand. Sometimes it is evident, while other times, it can come off as a more subtle jab.

Examples of Incivility Include:

  • Taking credit for when things go well but pointing fingers at team members when things go wrong.[1]

  • Interrupting and forcefully speaking over someone with whom you disagree.

  • Insulting direct reports, both privately and openly.[1]

  • Openly and crudely criticizing someone’s work or ideas.

  • Taking part in side conversations and excluding employees or colleagues.[1]

  • Making rude remarks about work or even personal matters.

  • Being rude to employees and customers.

  • Directly calling into question someone’s character or abilities, particularly in a public setting.

  • Blatantly expressing disapproval and not offering direction or guidance.

The Impacts of Incivility

Incivility can lead to a variety of negative consequences and tangible costs. From arousing negative emotions to total disengagement and decreased quality work, incivility can adversely affect the team and the company. Here are a few examples.

High Turnover Rates

Employees are not likely to stay in an environment where they continuously feel disrespected. Whether they are getting criticized by an aggressive boss or bothered by another team member, the chances of them quitting their job are much higher.

Productivity and Engagement

A group of individuals who do not feel respected in their work environment will not work at their best. If they know the likelihood of being criticized by their leader is high, they most likely will not go above and beyond. Instead, they will default to doing the bare minimum and maintaining the status quo, which lowers productivity and impacts organizational performance. What is worse, some might even emulate similar behaviors towards their colleagues.

Tips for Leaders

Leaders are vital to the establishment of a healthy work environment, free of incivility. Leaders need to set the example, walk the talk, and take immediate action when uncivil behaviors occur. Some tips are:

  • Set clear expectations and make values clear—Beginning in the interview process, hire for civility. Be explicit about the organization’s values and expected behaviors. [4]

  • Educate on Proper Conflict Resolution—Sometimes incivility is the by-product of poor conflict resolution abilities. Ensure that people have the right tools to communicate and solve conflicts.

  • Foster a Supportive Environment—Employees must feel supported and comfortable reaching out to management if they experience incivility. Show them that you are on their side and want to promote a psychologically safe work environment.

  • Train Employees on Incivility—Some people are unaware of what incivility is or what damage it can cause. Help them to see the examples of incivility that aren’t quite as blatant to encourage a more positive workplace.

  • Create group norms and punish bad behavior[1]—Discuss your expectations with your team members and frequently reinforce their understanding. Ensure all group members are clear about the accepted and expected behaviors and never turn a blind eye to uncivil attitudes. Take action and be consistent with your values.


Leaders need to be more and more aware of the potential problems that arise from incivility and take active steps to address them. Pushing back on incivility is one of the most valuable leadership qualities that a manager can have in these difficult times.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. If you want to learn more, our 4-module Leadership Development Master Class for practitioners contains all the materials you'll need to improve your leadership skills to help you strengthen your connections with employees or clients. Email us at to schedule a meeting to learn more about how we can partner with you to turn your leadership goals into reality!

Vera Alves is the Chief Consulting Officer at Leader Essentials Group, with extensive experience in leadership development and business management. With over 12 years of experience as a C-suite executive, Vera is highly skilled in the areas of leadership, strategic planning, operations management, organizational behavior, and change management. She possesses highly developed communication, training, and linguistic skills reflective of a very strong and charismatic leadership style.


[1] Porath, C., & Pearson, C. (2013). The price of incivility. Harvard Business Review, 91(1-2), 115-121. [2] Porath, C. (2016). An antidote to incivility. Harvard Business Review, 94(4), 22. [3] Andersson, L. M., & Pearson, C. M. (1999). Tit for tat? The spiraling effect of incivility in the workplace. Academy of Management Review, 24(3), 452-471. [4] Porath, C. (2018). Make civility the norm on your team. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from Make Civility the Norm on Your Team.pdf ( 02-26-2021.

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