Health, Safety and Incivility (part 1)


This interview with Sharone Bar-David appeared in Safe Supervisor magazine in August 2009.

Incivility: The Molehill that Can Cause a Mountain of Work-Related Problems: Part I 

This is the first story in a two-part series examining the importance of maintaining respect in the workplace and the wide-ranging negative consequences of letting disrespectful behavior go unchallenged. This story will illustrate how small negative interactions among employees can spiral into a toxic workplace atmosphere. Part two in September’s Safe Supervisor will look at how supervisors can address the problem before it escalates.

While many companies have strict policies in place to deal with employees who harass or bully co-workers, those policies often fail to recognize and address smaller acts of incivility that can hurt a workplace.

“It’s things like not saying good morning, ignoring or excluding someone or gossiping. Most organizations don’t deal with it at all. It becomes a culture (of disrespect) and poisons the workplace,” says Sharone Bar-David, ( a Toronto-based motivational speaker/trainer specializing in workplace respect issues.

In her experience in working with a variety of workplaces, Bar-David estimates that eight out of 10 managers do not know how to identify and adequately respond to problem behavior that is respect related.

If the Window is Broken, Fix It Fast

She likens incivility among workers to the Broken Window Theory, which states that a single broken window in a neighborhood that is not fixed leads to an increase in petty crime, graffiti and vandalism in the area over time.

“My assertion is that when organizations, supervisors and managers don’t address the little incivilities, what they will see is exponential growth in incivility and even more importantly, more harassment situations,” she says.

Bar-David says when the person exhibiting inappropriate and unprofessional behavior is in a position of authority, one in four workers on the receiving end responds by reducing his or her work effort and one in two contemplate changing jobs.

“Some people will steal (from the company) and others will sabotage equipment. Almost everyone will tell friends, family and colleagues. Slowly, but surely your company or organization is getting a bad name.”

Another consequence of incivility is that workers who don’t respect one another often show indifference or outright rudeness to visitors and customers. Bar-David notes that companies that are struggling to remain profitable during the worst economic recession in decades can’t afford to offend clients or customers.

Harassment, defined as unwelcome behavior that offends and belittles, is the next level in the progression of unchallenged incivility, and bullying — repeated offensive behavior where the victim feels helpless to defend himself/herself, is the worst level.

Bar-David says companies that ignore harassment and bullying behavior face a number of negative consequences, including:

  • Reduced productivity,
  • Increased absenteeism when victims of bullying or harassment call in sick or take stress leaves,
  • Greater potential for workplace injuries or fatalities, because victims who are stressed out or depressed are not keeping their minds on task,
  • The potential for lawsuits from workers who suffer mental breakdowns and,
  • The potential for workplace violence if a victim snaps and decides to take revenge.


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