We all know the saying “It costs nothing to be nice.” But did you know it can cost millions to be rude?

Studies show that incivility not only sours work environments but is also bad for business.

In her TedTalk “Why being respectful to your coworkers is good for business,” Georgetown University professor Christine Porath, Ph.D. discusses the detrimental effects workplace incivility has on performance and how we can reap the benefits of respect.

What is workplace incivility?

Simply put, incivility is rudeness or disrespect. Some examples include telling offensive jokes, mocking or belittling others, and texting during meetings. But not everybody considers the same things disrespectful. When it comes to texting, for example, some people perceive it as rude while others do not; what matters is the effect it has on one’s feelings. As Porath states, “We may not mean to make someone feel [disrespected], but when we do, it has consequences.”

What are the consequences of workplace incivility?

Porath’s team of researchers found that incivility made people less motivated. Of those surveyed, 66% cut back work efforts, 80% lost time worrying about what happened, and 12% left their job. One company calculated a loss of $12 million per year due to workplace incivility.

What about just witnessing workplace incivility?

To look deeper into how incivility affects work environments, Porath and her team wanted to observe the effects of witnessing incivility. The team designed a study in which an experimenter disrespected a tardy participant with belittling and insulting comments and found that those who observed the incivility demonstrated weaker performance on a task they were given.

According to Porath, incivility is a “bug” that infects everyone near it. One that can be contracted outside the workplace as well — at home, at the grocery store, online, in schools — and affect mood, motivation, and performance.

What are the benefits of respect in the workplace?

When Porath’s research team asked over 20,000 employees around the world what they want most from their leaders, the majority said respect over recognition, useful feedback, and opportunities for learning. While many of us may believe that “nice guys finish last,” research shows that, when leaders are rude, insensitive, or abrasive, their teams are less likely to have their backs when they end up in a position of weakness. In short, those who lead with incivility often sabotage their own success.

Alternatively, research shows that employees who feel respected at work are healthier, more focused, more engaged, and more likely to stay, and the boost in morale leads to:

  • Improved performance
  • More effective leadership
  • Increased employee sustainability
  • Increased customer satisfaction
  • Increased productivity
  • Increased creativity

How do you foster a respectful work environment as a leader?

While modeling respect in the workplace includes greeting others with kindness and showing interest in them as people, it does not mean avoiding conflict. There are effective ways for leaders to be respectful while expressing disagreement and challenging a team to improve its performance.

Here are some ways leaders can create a culture of what Porath refers to as “radical candor,” the practice of “caring personally but challenging directly”:

  • Show appreciation for all ideas, even if you disagree. It takes courage to share ideas, especially in group settings. A leader’s job is to motivate, not discourage, so it’s important to create an environment where contributors are encouraged to speak up
  • Share credit. As a leader, it’s only natural to receive credit for your team’s success, but by acknowledging the contributions of specific individuals, you will motivate them to keep up the good work.
  • Check body language. Small shifts in how we show up can make a big difference; making eye contact and smiling when interacting with your team can create an environment in which employees are more willing to communicate and collaborate.


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