The 4 Stages of Work Culture Incivility – Where To Go From Here

From Hollywood stars to news media anchors, the recent barrage of workplace sexual harassment allegations has sparked much needed conversations about workplace incivility. Society has avoided this topic far too long because this type of behavior can mean different things to different people and different industries, and it’s allowed.

In her book Trust Your Canary: Every Leader’s Guide to Taming Workplace Incivility, leading Canadian expert on workplace incivility, Sharone Bar-David, outlines four stages of how a work culture progresses from healthy to Acute Disease by allowing inappropriate behavior.

Which stage of incivility would you give your work culture?

  1. Healthy

In general, people are civil with one another and work well together. Even when disagreements occur or something is said that is questionable, people feel comfortable to address it right away. As a result, relationships are stronger because tension doesn’t linger and differences are worked through. This stage is driven by leaders who model civil behavior and expect the same of their employees.

  1. Persistent Allergy

Incivility exists, but isn’t perceived to be a big deal and management allows it. Overall, there’s still a good spirit in the work culture and leaders are comfortable with how people interact so no effort is made to address or resolve inappropriate behavior. Leaders themselves may exhibit some unintended non-malicious behaviors related to their personality style rather than blatant inappropriate behavior such as aggressive language, name calling, and public humiliation.  This stage is likely to get worse if it goes unaddressed.

  1. Chronic Infection

At this stage, incivility has made its way into the DNA of the work culture in malicious overt and covert ways. Management may try to address specific instances, but efforts often backfire because by now inappropriate behaviors are deeply embedded in how people interact. To make matters even worse, the company brand is starting to be affected as customers are either the recipients of rude, disrespectful behavior or observe such interactions between employees.

  1. Acute Disease

Since management has allowed inappropriate behavior, the work culture is poisoned with harassment, bullying, and degrading comments. Further, employees may be marginalized and ridiculed to the point where they become sick. Management and human resources are dealing with constant turnover, sick leaves, and hiring to replace the depleted work force.

Where to go from here?

First, identify which stage of incivility you would place your work culture and overall organizational health.

If you find your organization in Stage two or beyond, you may be thinking about your quickest way out of the business. You’re not alone. Many leaders feel overwhelmed and quite frankly afraid to speak up for fear of retaliation.

In my next blog, we’ll discuss what you can do to remedy the workplace incivility in your organization. In the meantime, acknowledge the severity and identify the ways have you been allowing incivility.

If you’d like to teach your leaders and employees about the actions and behaviors to turn around incivility in your work culture, let’s talk. Together we’ll develop a system and process so every employee understands what is expected of him/her and how to work together with civility that doesn’t waiver or change over time.

Workplace Conflict Expert Bonnie Artman Fox, MS, LMFT, works with executive leaders and team managers who want to stop divisive behaviors, resolve conflict, and build the team trust needed to create a healthy work culture.  Contact Bonnie to help your employees get along and bring teams together.

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