We are living in stressful times. Regrets about the past, struggles with the present, and anxiety about the future can all lead to increased stress, for ourselves as well as our employees. Individually, high stress levels can put our physical health and our emotional equilibrium at risk. When it comes to your company as a whole, however, high stress levels can do far greater harm.


What does stress have to do with your company’s success? According to the American Institute of Stress, many recent studies have shown that job-related pressures are the leading source of an employee’s stress, far above factors like relationship issues and creating a strong work/life balance. Not only that, but workplace stress has been on the rise in recent decades.


One of the primary causes of workplace stress is a lack of civility—an issue that is becoming more and more crucial in today’s world. 


What is Civility?

Workplace civility encompasses many aspects of interactions in the workplace, especially the use of empathy, compassion, and courtesy towards others. Incivility, on the other hand, usually manifests through the exchange of words that are inconsiderate towards others. 


These words may not seem consequential, but since they violate workplace norms and can poison the company’s culture, their effects can be considerable.


Examples of incivility include ignoring or withholding information from a coworker, insinuating something negative about a coworker, speaking with a coworker in a demeaning or combative manner, spreading workplace gossip, placing blame or taking credit unfairly, or raising controversial topics.


The Dangers of Incivility

Civility’s main goal is to protect workplace norms of mutual respect, so although the costs of incivility may go undetected, they are significant.


Major costs of incivility include low employee motivation and collaboration, higher turnover, and more frequent work absences. Incivility can also reduce employee engagement and productivity, increase health-related issues, and adversely impact a company’s culture.


Companies with a culture of civility often maintain better employee morale and productivity. Most importantly, maintaining this reputation will draw potential employees to your company, improving the pool of applicants and retaining quality employees.


The Changing Workplace

While civility has always been of crucial importance in the workplace, today’s companies are finding it more difficult than ever to maintain. This is true for several reasons:

  • Telecommuting or other distance work can leave employees feeling isolated or misunderstood.
  • A diverse workplace may leave space for either intentional or inadvertent insults – words that show disrespect towards an employee’s gender, race, or religion. Diversity should be an asset in the workplace, not a liability.
  • Shared workspaces and flexible work schedules may allow for more relaxed conversations, which may contain potentially controversial topics (e.g., politics).
  • Technological developments can adversely impact interpersonal skills. For example, people often text or tweet comments that they would never say in a face-to-face interaction.


How to Promote Civility

Although promoting civility in today’s workplace can be difficult, it is important for management to set the standard that they want their employees to follow. This includes…

  • Create civility by defining civility. Embody the civil behavior that you want to see throughout your organization.
  • Set specific expectations. This might be initially done in a company mission statement, and then continually revisited in company-wide meetings and trainings.
  • Hire carefully. Make sure to screen potential employees to ensure that they conduct themselves with civility.
  • Act as a guide. Coach employees, especially those in management positions, on how they can act in a respectful way in their day-to-day interactions with others in the company.
  • Hold your employees accountable. Reward positive behaviors, such as interactions that improve the civility levels in your workplace. Also, retain the same expectations for all of your employees, regardless of their level within your company.
  • Handle conflict civilly. You can do this by encouraging active listening and helping adversaries to find common ground.
  • Listen to feedback. This might mean creating an open relationship with your employees so that they can voice their frustration over uncivil interactions when necessary. It also includes interviewing those who have left your company to discover whether factors related to incivility could have spurred their decision to leave.


A culture of incivility is one of the most costly mistakes that a company can make. Your focus on creating a company culture where people feel respected will go a long way towards increasing stability and productivity in your organization.

Written by Robert Brown