Employee retention has become an urgent
issue. Workplace incivility, characterized by subtle forms of mistreatment
(such as a dismissive gesture, raised voices or harsh words) can lead to
lower job satisfaction, psychological stress, and a decline in physical
health. These negative effects eventually result in higher employee
Workplaces where stress levels already run high are especially
sensitive to incivility (because employees' emotional resources are
highly taxed to begin with). And since high-stress environments tend
also to be high-stakes, incivility could be at the heart of some very
costly, even tragic mistakes.
‘Personal interventions and team-building initiatives from management can reduce the intention of employees to quit.
This is particularly worrisome for organizations that have employees
working in shifts, such as manufacturing firms, police departments and
hospitals. Nowhere are the stakes higher than in hospitals with many
countries facing nursing shortages. If incivility were to cause nurses to leave the profession,
patients at the affected hospitals would bear the brunt.
Incivility is especially difficult to weed out of the workplace
because it may be difficult for employees to even describe or articulate
to Human Resources. But in his recent paper in the Journal of Vocational Behavior
, Curtailing the harmful effects of workplace incivility: The role of
structural demands and organization-provided resources, INSEAD Professor
of Strategic Management, Quy Huy and his colleagues find that there are
ways such incivility can be moderated.
"As the victims of incivility suffer, so will employee engagement
and productivity, until managers intervene to help them cope.
Fortunately, there are specific interventions that appear to do just
that," said Huy.
In the study, the researchers performed a two-stage survey of 618
nurses at a 550-bed teaching and research hospital in the Southeastern
United States. First, they asked the nurses to rate the hospital on
measures of incivility, whether they worked overnight and whether they
felt workplace expectations were unclear. Nurses were also asked about
their exposure to managerial interventions known to mitigate stress and
facilitate coping, such as team-building exercises and private informal
meetings to discuss work responsibilities. Five months later, nurses
were asked how likely they were to look for a new job in the coming
Huy and his colleagues had hypothesized that incivility's impact on
employees depends on the presence of reinforcing stressors in the
workplace environment, and on whether managers step in to help employees
cope. Subjected to regression analysis, the survey results supported
his hypothesis: Nurses who felt unclear about their workplace role
and/or worked the night shift were far more likely to be eyeing the
door, if they felt their surroundings were uncivil. Those who
experienced interventions to aid coping had less desire to leave,
regardless of perceived incivility.
Such interventions took the form of regular private meetings between
the supervisor and employee to review tasks and team building
interventions - focusing on both task-performance and feelings in the
work place and home. Employees who participated in these meetings and
team building sessions were less likely to have intentions of leaving.
"It's dangerously complacent to assume that everything's fine
between your employees because you haven't heard otherwise. This could
be the last straw that 'breaks the camel's back'. When in doubt, err on
the side of being a little more concerned with employees' emotional
well-being than strictly necessary," said Huy.