Posted by: healingtheworkplace | December 6, 2012

Civility, Kindness and OCBs in the Workplace

Susan is an incredibly hard-working and committed executive director of a small non-profit organization. She puts in far too many hours for the amount of pay that she receives but she is passionate about  the work she does. Susan is respected by staff, volunteers, and members of the community. Why then does the chair of the board feel that it is ok to belittle her in front of other board members?

According to Ray Williams there is a rise of incivility in the workplace. I was fortunate to hear Ray talk about this at a meeting of Vancouver’s Workplace Centre for Spiritual and Ethical Development in October. This rise of incivility in our workplaces mirrors what is happening through-out North America and most of the world.

In a recent USA Today survey people 94% cited incivility as one of the most serious problems affecting our society.

According to the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program,

“Civility involves behaving in a respectful manner to others, whereas incivility involves behaving in a rude or discourteous manner that is disrespectful of others.”

But these seemingly “minor” infractions often escalate into something very ugly and hard to control.

In his talk, Ray outlined what he called a spectrum of negative (uncivil) behavior:

  1. Complaining, gossiping and swearing
  2. Yelling, belittling, humiliating, and discriminating against people
  3. Physical violence, inappropriate touching, harassment and even murder

So, why do we tolerate it and what can be done?

Through-out my career I have witnessed bullying and other forms of uncivil behavior and at one point I was on the “receiving end” of the abuse. And, although I hate to admit it, I too have been guilty of complaining and gossiping.  Sadly, I have witnessed yelling, belittling, humiliating, and discriminating  behaviors and have not had the courage to stand up and stop the perpetrators.

Why didn’t I speak up?  Fear of the consequences? One instance involved my immediate manager and another involved a senior physician. The confusing thing is that president and other senior members of these organizations were aware of both men’s behavior and chose to look the other way…to condone what was happening.

If organizations allow this kind of uncivil behavior it tends to “infect” the entire organization and before long being uncivil has become the “norm”. Once this happens and the culture shifts in support of the bullies then it is an expensive, painful, and long process for an individual, team, or even an entire organization to become healthy again.

Oh, and OCBs refers to “organizational citizenship behavior”  – a concept that has been around since the 1970s and is linked to organizational effectiveness.


  1. I love Jack Gibb’s work around “Trust Theory” and think it really applies here. The higher the levels of trust, the more creative, innovative, dynamic and effective a group or organization will be. The opposite of trust is fear, and fear makes workplaces less creative, innovative dynamic and effective. Incivility leads to fear in the workplace.

    • Thanks David! I love Jack Gibb’s work as well. This morning I have been thinking about the importance of “finding one’s voice” as the first step in speaking up against injustices. Until I read your comment I had not thought about trust BUT it is essential if we are going to find the confidence to do this work.

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