It's an age of incivility: How business leaders can help

It's a trend that many people have noticed recently — front-line employees across industries, including healthcare, are facing increased rants, insults and rudeness. This raises the question: What can business leaders do to improve the situation?

Christine Porath, PhD, a professor of management at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., sets out to answer this question in a Harvard Business Review article published Nov. 9.

Dr. Porath has studied incivility — which she defines as "rudeness, disrespect or insensitive behavior" — for more than two decades.

In August, she designed a new survey about the topic to gauge how people worldwide have recently experienced rudeness.

She said data in the new survey is based on more than 2,000 people in more than 25 industries in various roles. Respondents included both front-line employees and those who had observed them in the workplace. Dr. Porath found that 76 percent of respondents experience incivility at least once monthly, and 78 percent witness incivility at work at least that often. This compares to nearly half of the workers she surveyed worldwide in 2005 who said they were treated rudely at work at least once monthly. The number was up to 55 percent in 2011, and 62 percent by 2016.

"People are nastier than ever to front-line employees. The effects are costly to those who serve us, witnesses, businesses and society. I hope we improve," Dr. Porath told Fortune.

The Atlantic's ​​Olga Khazan published a piece in March titled, "Why People Are Acting So Weird," for which she spoke with more than a dozen experts on crime, psychology and social norms about contributing factors to rudeness. Stress was one contributing factor identified, among others.

Dr. Porath recommends that business leaders tackle the issue by addressing the full employee experience — recruiting, coaching, scoring and practicing.

More specifically, she recommends conducting structured behavioral interviews and asking candidates questions like, "Tell me about a time when you've had to deal with stress or conflict at work. What did you do?"

She also recommends "set[ting] expectations and establish[ing] norms for how people interact with one another, and for what they should do when others don't adhere to the norms." Additionally, she said business leaders should recognize and reward civility, as well as ensure workers "have the tools they need to protect themselves from uncivil behavior — both in the moment and over time."

Read her full article here

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