Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Have we reached the end of civility?

A recent column in the New York Times had an interesting take about the decreased level of civility in our society and its effect on the workplace. The author’s thesis is that technology has caused a decline in civility over the last 10 years, which has impacted the workplace:

[A]s we’re all aware, the 21st century has brought with it new variations on rudeness. Answering texts during a luncheon. Tapping on BlackBerrys instead of listening to a speaker—or a child’s recital. Shooting off hostile e-mail anonymously. But is this decline in manners real? And when considering this, should we separate the outward symbols of politeness from general civility? It’s a complicated but important issue that has a surprising economic impact. Christine Pearson, a professor of management at Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona, said her research over the last decade had shown that many workers left jobs because of continuing incivility but rarely reported that as the reason.

Professor Pearson researched 9,000 managers and workers for her book, The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility Is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It. She concluded that incivility is rampant on the job. She cited examples such as rudeness, ignoring requests for help, ignoring a colleague passing in the hall, gossiping behind colleagues’ backs, and borrowing supplies without asking.

I’ve written about courtesy and civility before, and will leave you with two additional thoughts:

  1. Whether this is a real workplace problem or not, it cannot hurt to try to be a little nicer to each other. Behavior models start at the top. If an organization is run by intimidation and scare tactics, then it should come as no surprise when managers and supervisors think they need to motivate their teams by yelling, harassing, sniping, and snubbing. It should also come as no surprise when employees respond with the incivility of litigation.

  2. Social media has downgraded the level of discourse in our society. If recent statistics cited by Mashable are to be believed, 1 out of every 4 U.S. Internet pageviews occurs on Facebook. It is not a stretch to concluded that this increased connectedness and familiarity with each other has led to more informality and less civility. The ability communicate in 140 character bursts does not require truncated discourse. (You can find me on twitter @jonhyman).

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