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the future of work

A man eager to get to his job interview pushes another public transit user out of the way and tells him to go forth and multiply – with himself. The commuter arrives at his appointment, only to discover that the gentleman he swore at is none other than the executive waiting to interview him.

This actually happened recently in London and not surprisingly, the story went viral. It obviously touched a nerve, since many of us can relate to being mistreated by our fellow commuters and quietly hope for retribution. But such incivility doesn't stop when we get off the train. Rudeness permeates the workplace, too, and it's just plain bad business.

Sometimes, this rudeness comes in the form of not valuing other people's time by failing to respond to e-mails or phone calls, or changing appointments at the last minute. While other obligations do come up from time to time, the message being conveyed when people consistently ignore, postpone or cancel appointments is that other people are just not that important.

My own personal goal has always been to treat everyone well (and if I've been remiss in my dealings with someone reading this, please accept my sincerest apologies.) As a result, I find my tolerance for rudeness remains very low. Don't return my phone calls? Stand me up for a meeting? Rest assured, I won't soon forget.

But is rudeness really on the rise at work?

Lew Bayer, chief executive officer of Civility Experts Worldwide, a consultancy based in Winnipeg, cites a Harvard Business Review research report that showed 96 per cent of employees have experienced rudeness at work. Half said they experienced rudeness at least once a week, up from a quarter in 1998.

For the most part, this incivility takes the form of chronic lateness, disrespect for others' property, the use of inappropriate language and exhibiting "absent presence." That means being in the same room but ignoring others by not engaging in eye contact or making no effort to communicate verbally.

"We're seeing increasing disrespect for what I would call basic social protocols, including things like not returning calls in a timely fashion, non-words or short answers as responses, making the other person work extra hard to communicate with you. … It seems we're a bit selfish and focused on what is convenient for us – and ignoring the consequences of that," she said.

To compound the issue, people return rudeness with rudeness, sparking a vicious cycle.

According to the same study, incivility has tangible costs, with 48 per cent of people who had experienced rudeness from managers or co-workers decreasing their work effort, 47 per cent decreasing their time at work and 80 per cent losing work time worrying about the incident. Even more worrisome, 12 per cent left their jobs because of such treatment and 25 per cent admitted to taking their frustration out on their customers.

Ralph Fevre, a professor of social research at Cardiff University said his research showed that incivility in the workplace translates into increased turnover, more sick days, lower morale and poor productivity. But remedying this situation isn't as straightforward as it would seem.

"Managers and supervisors are the single most important source of incivility in the workplace and some of this occurs as they pursue the objectives their employer has given them. This in turn suggests that companies sometimes lose sight of the fundamentals because they are determined to follow a particular strategy," Mr. Fevre said.

According to his research, incivility is most often demonstrated by shouting, insults, treating others disrespectfully, intimidating behaviour and persistent criticism. He said that there is a substantial overlap between incivility at work and other forms of ill treatment in the workplace, including violence.

Naturally, some offices are worse than others but those that consider their work "super intense" are prone to problems of all types. The most reliable predictors of a troubled workplace? When employees feel they need to compromise their principles or when organizations put their own needs ahead of their employees' well-being, Mr. Fevre said.

To root out rudeness, companies can make a healthy workplace culture a managerial goal at all levels of the organization, starting with a company policy that recognizes incivility as one of the causes of labour turnover, Mr. Fevre said.

Ms. Bayer suggested that employers start choosing civility as a core corporate value, defining what civility looks like on the job and fostering a workplace where this behaviour is encouraged and rewarded. If an employee doesn't feel comfortable confronting a colleague about their bad behaviour, Ms. Bayer developed an app that will do it for you. It's an option to keep in mind the next time someone swears at you on the way to work ends up at your office door.

Leah Eichler is founder and CEO of r/ally, a mobile collaboration platform for enterprises. Twitter: @LeahEichler

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