Workplace incivility

Workplace incivility has been defined as low-intensity deviant behavior with ambiguous intent to harm the target. Uncivil behaviors are characteristically rude and discourteous, displaying a lack of regard for others.[1] The authors hypothesize there is an "incivility spiral" in the workplace made worse by "asymmetric global interaction".[1]

Incivility is distinct from aggression. The reduction of workplace incivility is a fertile area for applied psychology research.

Surveys on occurrence and effects

A summary of research conducted in Europe suggests that workplace incivility is common there.[2] In research on more than 1000 U.S. civil service workers, Cortina, Magley, Williams, and Langhout (2001) found that more than 70% of the sample experienced workplace incivility in the past five years.[2] Similarly, Laschinger, Leiter, Day, and Gilin found that among 612 staff nurses, 67.5% had experienced incivility from their supervisors and 77.6% had experienced incivility from their coworkers.[3] In addition, they found that low levels of incivility along with low levels of burnout and an empowering work environment were significant predictors of nurses' experiences of job satisfaction and organizational commitment.[3] Incivility was associated with occupational stress and reduced job satisfaction. Other research shows that workplace incivility relates to job stress, depression, and life satisfaction as well.[4]

After conducting more than six hundred interviews with "employees, managers, and professionals in varying industries across the United States" and collecting "survey data from an additional sample of more than 1,200 employees, managers, and professionals representing all industrial categories in the United States and Canada", Pearson and Porath wrote in 2004 that "The grand conclusion: incivility does matter. Whether its costs are borne by targets, their colleagues, their organizations, their families, their friends outside work, their customers, witnesses to the interactions, or even the instigators themselves, there is a price to be paid for uncivil encounters among coworkers."[5] Citing previous research (2000) Pearson writes that "more than half the targets waste work time worrying about the incident or planning how to deal with or avert future interactions with the instigator. Nearly 40 percent reduced their commitment to the organization; 20 percent told us that they reduced their work effort intentionally as a result of the incivility, and 10 percent of targets said that they deliberately cut back the amount of time they spent at work."[6]

Studies suggest that social support can buffer the negative effects of workplace incivility. Individuals who felt emotionally and organizationally socially supported reported fewer negative consequences (less depression and job stress, and higher in job and life satisfaction) of workplace incivility compared to those who felt less supported.[4] Research also suggests that the negative effects of incivility can be offset by feelings of organizational trust and high regard for one’s workgroup.[7]

Subtle/covert examples

Examples at the more subtle end of the spectrum include:[1]

  • asking for input and then ignoring it
  • "forgetting" to share credit for a collaborative work
  • giving someone a "dirty look"
  • interrupting others
  • not listening
  • side conversations during a formal business meeting/presentation
  • speaking with a condescending tone
  • waiting impatiently over someone's desk to gain their attention

Overt examples

Somewhere between the extremes are numerous everyday examples of workplace rudeness and impropriety including:[8]

  • disrespecting workers by comments, gestures or proven behaviors (hostility) based on characteristics such as their race, religion, gender, etc. This is considered workplace discrimination.
  • disrupting meetings
  • emotional put-downs
  • giving dirty looks or other negative eye contact (i.e. "hawk eyes" considered to be threatening in the culture of the United States)
  • giving public reprimands
  • giving the silent treatment
  • insulting others
  • making accusations about professional competence
  • not giving credit where credit is due
  • overruling decisions without giving a reason
  • sending a nasty and demeaning note (hate mail)
  • talking about someone behind his or her back
  • undermining credibility in front of others

Other overt forms of incivility might include emotional tirades and losing one's temper.[8]

Corporate symptoms of long term incivility

  1. Higher than normal employee turnover.[9]
  2. A large number of employee grievances and complaints.[9]
  3. Lost work time by employees calling in sick.[9]
  4. Increased consumer complaints.[9]
  5. Diminished productivity in terms of quality and quantity of work.[9]
  6. Cultural and communications barriers.[9]
  7. Lack of confidence in leadership.[9]
  8. Inability to adapt effectively to change.[9]
  9. Lack of individual accountability.[9]
  10. Lack of respect.[9]



A number of studies have shown that women are more likely than men to experience workplace incivility and its associated negative outcomes.[10][11] Research also shows that employees who witness incivility directed toward female coworkers have lower psychological wellbeing, physical health, and job satisfaction, which in turn relates lowered commitment toward the organization and higher job burnout and turnover intentions.[12] Miner-Rubino and Cortina (2004) found that observing incivility toward women related to increased work withdrawal for both male and female employees, especially in work contexts where there were more men.[13]

Other research shows that incivility directed toward same-gender coworkers tends to lead to more negative emotionality for observers.[14] While both men and women felt anger, fear, and anxiety arising from same-gender incivility, women additionally reported higher levels of demoralization after witnessing such mistreatment.[14] Furthermore, the negative effects of same-gender incivility were more pronounced for men observing men mistreating other men than for women observing women mistreating other women.[14] Miner and Eischeid (2012) suggest this disparity reflects men perceiving uncivil behavior as a “clear affront to the power and status they have learned to expect for their group in interpersonal interactions.”[14]

Motherhood status has also been examined as a possible predictor of being targeted for incivility in the workplace.[15] This research shows that mothers with three or more children report more incivility than women with two, one, or zero children.[15] Fathers, on the other hand, report more incivility than men without children, but still less than mothers. While motherhood appears to predict increases in workplace incivility, results also showed that the negative outcomes associated with incivility were mitigated by motherhood status. Fatherhood status, on the other hand, did not mitigate the relationship between incivility and outcomes. Childless women reported more workplace incivility than childless men, and showed a stronger relationship between incivility and negative outcomes than childless men, mothers, and fathers.[15]

Workplace bullying

Workplace bullying overlaps to some degree with workplace incivility but tends to encompass more intense and typically repeated acts of disregard and rudeness. Negative spirals of increasing incivility between organizational members can result in bullying,[16] but isolated acts of incivility are not conceptually bullying despite the apparent similarity in their form and content. In case of bullying, the intent of harm is less ambiguous, an unequal balance of power (both formal and informal) is more salient, and the target of bullying feels threatened, vulnerable and unable to defend himself or herself against negative recurring actions.[17][18]

Petty authority

Another related notion is petty tyranny, which also involves a lack of consideration towards others, although petty tyranny is more narrowly defined as a profile of leaders and can also involve more severe forms of abuse of power and of authority.[1]

See also


  1. Andersson, Lynne M.; Pearson, Christine M. (July 1999). "Tit for Tat? The Spiraling Effect of Incivility in the Workplace". The Academy of Management Review. 24 (3): 452–471. doi:10.2307/259136. JSTOR 259136.
  2. Cortina, Lilia M.; Magley, Vicki J.; Williams, Jill Hunter; Langhout, Regina Day (2001). "Incivility in the workplace: Incidence and impact". Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. 6 (1): 64–80. doi:10.1037/1076-8998.6.1.64. PMID 11199258.
  3. Laschinger, Heather K. Spence.; Leiter, Michael; Day, Arla; Gilin, Debra (2009). "Workplace empowerment, incivility, and burnout: Impact on staff nurse recruitment and retention outcomes". Journal of Nursing Management. 17 (3): 302–11. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2834.2009.00999.x. PMID 19426367.
  4. Miner, K. N.; Settles, I. H.; Pratt-Hyatt, J. S.; Brady, C. C. (2012). "Experiencing Incivility in Organizations: The Buffering Effects of Emotional and Organizational Support". Journal of Applied Social Psychology. 42 (2): 340–372. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.2011.00891.x.
  5. Christine M. Pearson, Christine L. Porath (2004). "On Incivility, Its Impact and Directions for Future Research". In Ricky W. Griffin and Anne O'Leary-Kelly (ed.). The Dark Side of Organizational Behavior. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 403–404. ISBN 978-0-7879-6223-4.
  6. Christine M. Pearson, Christine L. Porath (2004). "On Incivility, Its Impact and Directions for Future Research". In Ricky W. Griffin and Anne O'Leary-Kelly (ed.). The Dark Side of Organizational Behavior. John Wiley & Sons. p. 412. ISBN 978-0-7879-6223-4.
  7. Miner-Rubino, K.; Reed, W. D. (2010). "Testing a Moderated Mediational Model of Workgroup Incivility: The Roles of Organizational Trust and Group Regard". Journal of Applied Social Psychology. 40 (12): 3148–3168. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.2010.00695.x.
  8. Johnson, Pamela R.; Indvik, Julie (2001). "Slings and arrows of rudeness: incivility in the workplace". Journal of Management Development. 20 (8): 705–714. doi:10.1108/EUM0000000005829.
  9. "9 signs your work place needs civility, 6 steps to achieve it - TechJournal". Archived from the original on 2015-06-09. Retrieved 25 September 2014.
  10. Bjorkqvist, K.; Osterman, K.; Hjelt-Back, M. (1994). "Aggression among university employees". Aggressive Behavior. 20 (3): 173–184. doi:10.1002/1098-2337(1994)20:3<173::AID-AB2480200304>3.0.CO;2-D.
  11. Cortina, Lilia M.; Lonsway, Kimberly A.; Magley, Vicki J.; Freeman, Leslie V.; Collinsworth, Linda L.; Hunter, Mary; et al. (2002). "What's gender got to do with it? Incivility in the federal courts". Law and Social Inquiry. 27 (2): 235–270. doi:10.1111/j.1747-4469.2002.tb00804.x. hdl:2027.42/72366.
  12. Miner-Rubino, K.; Cortina, L. M. (2007). "Beyond targets: Consequences of vicarious exposure to misogyny at work". Journal of Applied Psychology. 92 (5): 1254–1269. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.92.5.1254. PMID 17845084.
  13. Miner-Rubino, Kathi; Cortina, Lilia M (2004). "Working in a Context of Hostility Toward Women: Implications for Employees' Well-Being". Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. 9 (2): 107–122. CiteSeerX doi:10.1037/1076-8998.9.2.107. PMID 15053711.
  14. Miner, K.; Eischeid, A. (2012). "Observing Incivility toward Coworkers and Negative Emotions: Do Gender of the Target and Observer Matter?". Sex Roles. 66 (7–8): 492–505. doi:10.1007/s11199-011-0108-0.
  15. Miner-Rubino, K. "Does Being a Mom Help or Hurt? Workplace Incivility as a Function of Motherhood Status" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the AWP Annual Conference, Marriott Newport Hotel, Newport, Rhode Island. 2014-11-30 from
  16. Beale, Diane (2001). "Monitoring bullying in the workplace". In Tehrani, Noreen (ed.). Building a culture of respect: managing bullying at work. London: Routledge. pp. 77–94. ISBN 978-0-415-24648-4.
  17. Rayner, Charlotte; Hoel, Helge; Cooper, Cary L. (2002). Workplace bullying: what we know, who is to blame, and what can we do?. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-24062-8.
  18. Peyton, Pauline Rennie (2003). Dignity at work: eliminate bullying and create a positive working environment. London: Brunner-Routledge. ISBN 978-1-58391-238-6.

Further reading


  • Bunk, JA (2007). The role of appraisals, emotions, and coping in understanding experiences of workplace incivility (Thesis). OCLC 85783673.
  • Gallus, JA (2005). Assertive coping with workplace incivility (Thesis). OCLC 62493840.
  • Kelley, S (2007). Dishonorable treatment: workplace incivility, cultures of honor (Thesis). OCLC 310964316. Retrieved 2018-04-30.
  • Kirk, BA (2006). The role of emotional self-efficacy and emotional intelligence in workplace incivility and workplace satisfaction (Thesis). OCLC 271884691.
  • Lee, AYH (2008). Will workplace incivility result in work-family spillover? (Thesis). Singapore Management University. School of Social Sciences. OCLC 228778973.
  • Liptrot, G (2005). Experiences of workplace incivility: outcomes and moderating influences of coping style, social support and negative affect (Thesis). OCLC 271294899.
  • Loi, NM (2006). Sex differences in workplace incivility and sexual harassment : prevalence, coping strategies, and outcomes (Thesis). OCLC 271396154.
  • Martin, R (2004). Development and validation of the scale of workplace incivility (Thesis). OCLC 224781046.
  • Milam, AC (2006). Individual differences and perceptions of workplace incivility (Thesis). OCLC 182955552.
  • Penney, LM (2002). Workplace incivility and counterproductive workplace behavior (CWB): what is the relationship and does personality play a role? (Thesis). OCLC 52945741.
  • Polson, SC (2008). Examining who and why: testing a moderated mediational model of workplace incivility (Thesis). OCLC 311867300.
  • Preston, M (2007). Creating conflict: antecedents of workplace incivility (Thesis). OCLC 310114176. Retrieved 2018-04-30.
  • Riley, RP (2005). Coping with workplace incivility: effects on retaliatory behaviors (Thesis). OCLC 61524706.
  • Schmitt, CM (2006). Examining the relationship between social allergens, counterproductive work behaviors, and workplace incivility (Thesis). OCLC 76832718.
  • Settles, RL (2008). Understanding the presence of workplace incivility in K–12 schools: perceptions and responses from teachers (Thesis). OCLC 257694232.
  • Simmons, DC (2008). Organizational culture, workplace incivility, and turnover : the impact of human resources practices (Thesis). OCLC 833039705.
  • Smith, DJ (2007). Workplace incivility and emotional labor in hospital nurses (Thesis). OCLC 263023636.
  • Windhorst, SM (2006). Workplace incivility and the low-status target (Thesis). OCLC 310957055.

Academic papers

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