Civility: A Business Imperative

Johnny C. Taylor, President and CEO of SHRM

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.

SHRM, President and CEO

When was the last time you had a civil conversation with someone you disagreed with? Here at SHRM, the trusted authority on all things work, workers and the workplace, we asked more than 1,600 U.S. workers how often they experience or witness acts of incivility, both in their personal and professional lives. The results indicate approximately 2,000 acts of incivility occur every second, almost 800 of those in the workplace. And I’m here to tell you: Ultimately, it’s both the employer and the employee who pay the price.

Building a culture of civility in the workplace is not just the right thing to do—it’s essential to the success of any organization. Our research further reveals 66% of workers believe incivility in the workplace reduces productivity, and 59% agree employee morale suffers when acts of incivility occur. With employees spending a significant portion of each week with their professional colleagues, it’s no surprise frequent incivility in the workplace can have a dramatic effect on their overall well-being.

Incivility is also costing companies untold millions in turnover costs. Keeping tensions low and conversations civil in your organization is essential to retaining critical talent and keeping recruitment costs down. Employees want to work at an organization where they feel they’re respected and valued—they want to know they belong. But, unfortunately, far too many of us know what it’s like to dread going to work because of argumentative, or even downright hostile, coworkers. And it’s costing employers big time. Of employees that work in environments where incivility is common, 32% say they’re likely to leave their jobs within the next 12 months. Meanwhile, of those in workplaces where incivility is rare, only 18% report they’re likely to leave within the next year. Simply put, your organization cannot perform at its best with tensions high and morale low, and your employees aren’t going to wait around while you figure out your company ethos.

Company executives and HR professionals alike have a responsibility to their employees to create civil work environments. It starts at the top, with leadership demonstrating to their employees they won’t hesitate to address instances of uncivil behavior in the workplace. Our current research reveals only one in four U.S. workers believe their manager adequately responds to incivility. Show your employees you’re serious about building a safe, supportive, more dynamic environment by providing them with a forum to discuss and report poor conduct. Assure them their concerns will always be heard. By allowing your employees to have a voice, you will build trust within your organization, a trust that a thriving company culture depends on.

I often say, we’re as diverse as we’ve ever been, and yet also as divided. A key component of reducing incivility and fostering a culture of belonging in your workplace is through investing in your IE&D (Inclusion, Equity and Diversity) programs, promoting respect and dispelling unconscious biases. It’s not enough to simply be diverse; we must teach our employees how to be diverse without being divisive, to see our differences as strengths. It’s up to leadership to foster inclusive cultures where we strive for understanding and respect in the workplace.

It will take all of us—corporate executives, HR professionals and employees working together—to build cultures of civility in our workplaces and beyond. To my fellow leaders, it’s time to examine our workplace cultures and take the steps necessary to improve the lives of our valuable talent by choosing civility. And to all employees, I hope you make an effort to have a respectful conversation with a colleague today. Feel free to make your voice heard. Go ahead and disagree. Just keep it civil.