Don’t Take Workplace Incivility Home

can workplace incivility spillover to home

 Jane is a hospital nurse who takes pride in caring for patients. One day she was with an ill patient who was disturbed by two physicians arguing in the hall outside the room. Jane went up to the physicians to alert them that they were disturbing a patient. One looked at her and told her to shut up and go away. Of course Jane was upset, but will she take this workplace incivility home with her? A new study (available here) by Zhiqing Zhou, Laurenz Meier and Paul Spector was designed to find out.

Workplace Incivility

 Workplace incivility occurs when an employee is treated in a disrespectful or rude way by another person. This could be from a coworker, a supervisor, from a customer or patient, or in Jane’s case, from a physician. Although sometimes people are rude without intending to be, often incivility comes from people just being nasty in ways that are inappropriate and unprofessional. Everyone encounters rudeness occasionally, but in some workplaces, incivility can run rampant.

Work-Family Conflict

 Work-family conflict occurs when demands at work interfere with an employee’s home life. There are three major types.

  1. Time schedule conflicts. This occurs when events at work interfere with events at home. For example, a parent might miss his or her child’s dance recital or sporting event because the time conflicts with a can’t-miss work meeting.
  2. Time demand conflicts. These conflicts occur due to the total amount of time that work consumes–think managers who work 60 hours/week. Work takes up so much time that little is left for dealing with the family.
  3. Emotional conflicts. This is the kind of conflict Jane might have after being mistreated by the physicians at work. If she comes home upset and in a bad mood, it might result in arguments with family members.

A Study of Nursing Incivility

Ninety-three nurses agreed to participate in a 5-week study of workplace incivility and work-family conflict. Each week they completed surveys indicating how much incivility they experienced from coworkers, such as other nurses, supervisors, and outsiders (patients, family members and visitors). They also indicated the amount of work-family conflict that occurred for the week.

Do Employees Take Workplace Incivility Home?

The study found that the most incivility came from outsiders, and the least from supervisors. Further, incivility from only coworkers and outsiders was linked to work-family conflict. The more incivility the nurses experienced from these two groups in a given week, the more work-family conflict they experienced that week. There was no connection between supervisor incivility and work-family conflict. This could be due to the fact that supervisors were not often uncivil, and perhaps when they were, the nurses were just not as affected.

What To Do about Workplace Incivility

Completely eliminating workplace incivility is impossible. Sometimes people are unintentionally rude, and sometimes people misread something someone does as uncivil. However, incivility can be managed so it does not become the norm in an organizations. Some tips.

  1. Managers need to model the behavior they expect from subordinates. This means treating other people with respect and avoiding rudeness where possible. This does not mean that supervisors should walk on egg shells and avoid saying anything critical that might hurt someone’s feelings. Honest feedback is important, but there is a difference between providing corrective feedback and being mean. One can tell someone they need to improve in some area in a polite and professional manner to minimize chances that the person will feel attacked.
  2. Build a civility climate in the organization. Climates have to do with the policies and practices in an organization and reflect which behaviors are encouraged and which are discouraged. It is possible to build a civility climate by making clear that being respectful to one another is important, encouraging people when they are civil, and taking corrective action when they are not. It is important to let employees know when they are out of line in how they talk to others. It can be phrased as being “unprofessional”.
  3. One of the supervisor’s roles is to mediate conflict among employees. If two employees get into an argument that becomes personal, the supervisor should step in and help them resolve their differences. The supervisor is in a position to help them work out their conflict in a productive manner. Setting ground rules about personal attacks can help control the tone of the meeting, and sends a message that the supervisor values honest dialogue.

Managing conflict does not mean that everyone has to agree, and that people are punished for saying the wrong thing. It means creating a climate where people are free to speak their mind, but value professional relationships enough to avoid excessive incivility. Doing so will help assure that employees do not take workplace incivility home with them.

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