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Published 13 November 2012 10:17, Updated 11 June 2013 12:06
Is the workplace getting ruder? Most people seem to think so but it ain’t necessarily so.
It may just be that we look at the past with misty-eyed fondness and forget that emotional intelligence was not something that people worried about in the go-get-em 1980s or in the internet-led transformations of the 1990s.
And it is not particularly a feature of Generation Y. Young people could always be a little rough around the edges.
A senior lecturer in organisational psychology at Macquarie University, Barbara Griffin, studies incivility and says she does not think rudeness in the office is generational. It might be tempting to think that young people don’t know how to stand aside from opening lift doors or know how to address their boss, but these skills have always had to be learned.
“When the general tone of the workplace is good, they are fine. When it is poor [bad behaviour] is quite catching”, she says.
So, people who are new to work will learn from the people around them. If they notice people opening doors for each other, they will learn to do it, too. If they see people walking away to take their mobile phone calls, they will see that as acceptable behaviour.
However, all of that doesn’t mean that rudeness in the workplace isn’t a problem. It is and it “pushes our buttons”.
One offence can escalate into a tit-for-tat war of attrition, making working life unbearable for everyone around them and damaging the objectives of the business.
Griffin says the level of incivility and its frequency will affect job satisfaction, engagement and people’s intentions to leave their jobs.
“Even if an individual isn’t personally being treated badly, in a team, when others are being treated badly, they also suffer,” she says.
However, deciding what is uncivil can be difficult. What is rude to one person may be perfectly acceptable for another.
“People have different norms of behaviour,” she says.
Griffin says women tend to take offence more than men and behaviour that is tolerated from a colleague would be unacceptable from a boss, she says. The best way to deal with the situation is to play it safe.
Corporations are so concerned about employee behaviour that they have employed Griffin’s co-researcher, Deanna Paulin, to advise them and to lead “interventions”.
Griffin advises leaders to start discussions about what behaviour is acceptable at work and outlines the top 10 work offences: