It has happened to many of us. A colleague has been rude or discourteous to you. A supervisor has belittled your work. A co-worker has spread false rumors about you. Some would call this bullying, but these are all examples of workplace incivility, a term coined by researchers and an area that has been studied quite a bit by Occupational and Industrial Psychologists. Workplace incivility has been defined as low intensity behavior that may be demonstrated through actions such as being rude, impolite, or violating workplace norms of behavior.
A byproduct of workplace incivility is rumination, the simple repeating of a thought or problem over and over in the mind without resolution. Rumination has been referred to as a silent mental health problem because it is often underestimated. It has been linked with anxiety, depression and has even been related to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). And as many of us who have experienced it know, it can also affect the quality of our sleep, creating a cascading effect leading to other health concerns like heart disease and obesity.
The link between workplace incivility and rumination is strong. People who experience incivility will likely examine the incident repeatedly trying to make sense of it both at work and at home. Employees are left to try and figure out what went wrong and how to deal with future interactions. In addition to their sleep, this state of rumination can interfere with their relationships with other family members.
The good news is that there are ways to help employees deal with incivility. For the employee, separation of work and home is a good place to start. Stop checking emails, messages, etc. related to work a couple of hours before you sleep. There are several relaxation techniques such as meditation, reading, listening to music or exercise that can replace the time that was previously used for work activities while at home.
As employers we must be aware of incivility and try our best to mitigate it in the workplace. We must create a positive environment for our team by setting good examples and providing support and resources for our employees. We must take employee complaints seriously and investigate potential situations. Employers must be aware of the culture that exists within their company and strive to create rules of conduct that are acceptable to all. Hiring Managers should pay attention in interviews for candidates that show signs of civility such as good manners to all they encounter from the receptionist to the manager. Employers need to also be aware of current events as these can affect how employees interact with each other. Providing a safe workspace not only benefits the employees but is also good for the employer as it reduces turnover, increases job performance, and boosts morale.