What Causes Incivility in the Workplace?

by Nicole Vulcan

If you think workers' incivility in the workplace is an internal problem, think again. When workers engage in gossiping, nit-picking, rudeness or trash-talking amongst themselves, they may do similar things to your customers -- resulting in a poor reputation for the business. If you're looking to find the reasons for the bad behavior around your workplace, consider a few common sources and then use that knowledge to work on ways to fix it.


Every workplace has its share of stress, but when employers' expectations are too high or there's too much work and not enough time, stress levels can rise significantly. When employees are stressed out, they may lash out at other employees. They may get angry for little infractions, or they may gossip about workers who aren't pulling their weight. To minimize stress, encourage employees to make exercise a part of their daily routines.

Personality Conflicts

You're not going to be best friends with everyone you work with -- that's just a reality. But when a workplace has one or a few people whose personalities or working styles clash with others, the situation can devolve into incivility. Perhaps one person likes to take the lead, while the rest of the team prefers a collaborative decision-making process. Often, the only way to prevent that from happening is to hire people whose personalities are better matched -- which means having better screening mechanisms in place during hiring, advises the Society for Human Resource Management.

Poor Leadership

The leadership in a workplace is the number one cause of workplace incivility, according to a 2011 study published by the public relations firm Weber Shandwick. This may be a result of the leaders' own actions, as well as the policies in place in the organization. Leaders who treat subordinates in an uncivil manner are setting a standard that can reach to all parts of the organization. Additionally, business leaders need to take a stand to make sure employees are treating each other -- and their customers -- with respect. That could mean creating a workplace code of conduct and advertising it in employee handbooks, social media channels, on the company website and in other prominent locations. The code of conduct should encourage employees to speak and act respectfully and to work on conflicts in a positive, non-confrontational manner.


In a tight economy, workers get increasingly concerned about their job security -- which can lead to more competitiveness with co-workers with whom they previously had a good relationship. That same Weber Shandwick study found that competitiveness and the economy were other big factors in workplace incivility. To cut down on unproductive competition in the workplace, have employees get to know each other's jobs more intimately, advises the Harvard Business Review, to foster a sense of empathy. Also, encourage workers to talk things out when they get overly competitive.

About the Author

Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.

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