Hidden Costs:

The links between Incivility and Bullying in the Workplace

Duda Silva

Psychology 460

Dr. Diane Villa

March 24, 2009


Research indicates that human incivility, can and is the cause of many cases of “workplace bullying”. Workplace bullying can affect a company’s bottom line due to lost productivity and employee turnover. An ongoing issue, incivility is directly linked with the attitudes that start the actual bullying.  Bullying crosses personal boundaries and hurts not only the people affected, but many organizations worldwide; from sales to hospitals, service industries to technology firms.  Incivility and bullying deteriorate work performance and leaves those individuals experiencing these repeated attacks, physical or verbal, ashamed to not only return to their job, but with a feeling of helplessness and defeat.  This article is written to not only to examine the shared traits and differences between incivility and bullying and how it affects individuals, but to better inform the working class and companies alike on how these activities affect personal well-being, work performance,  and company profitability.

Hidden Costs:

The Links between Incivility and Bullying in the Workplace

        Civil behavior involves treating others with dignity and respect as well as acting with consideration for their feelings (Estes, B, & Wang, J., 2008). Uncivil behavior, on the other hand, is quite the opposite. Incivility is described as behavior that is “unmannerly, rude, impolite, and discourteous.” (Estes, B, & Wang, J., 2008).  In its most basic form, incivility is a violation of the norms for respectful interpersonal interaction.  Although civil behavior is expected and therefore typically unnoticed, incivility is unexpected and consequently noteworthy.        

        As individuals in the U. S. and other western cultures become increasingly disconnected from others near them, through today’s mobile technology, and living behind walled homes and gated communities, they are losing the more personal connections they have to others. This increased anonymity and decreased reliance on others has reduced the feeling to treat strangers and acquaintances with courtesy and respect (Estes & Wang, 2008).

Linking Incivility and Workplace Bullying

Defining Incivility

        Workplace incivility is defined as “low intensity deviant behavior with ambiguous intent, in violation of workplace norms for mutual respect. Uncivil behaviors are characteristically rude and discourteous, displaying a lack of regard for others” (Estes & Wang, 2008). Bullying, on the other hand, is defined as a form of hostile, negative social interaction that is repetitive, patterned and ongoing, yet unwanted and unsolicited. It occurs in situations of power disparity where the perpetrator is in a more powerful position relative to the target (Parkins, I.S., Fishbein,  H.D., & Ritchey, P.N., 2006). Thus, the essential differences between the phenomena are more a matter of form and degree than content, which we explore below.

        In one study of 1,180 public sector employees, 71% of respondents reported experiencing workplace incivility in the previous five years, 17% of which experienced some true form of bullying (Bowling, N.A. & Beehr, T.A., 2006). As workplaces have become busier, more complex, and more stressful, the incidence of workplace incivility has increased–as has the myriad ways in which one can show a lack or regard for one’s co-workers (Parkins, Fishbein & Ritchey, 2006). According to Estes and Wang (2008), “the need for civility becomes even greater when the interactions among people increase in complexity and frequency,” such as in the modern workplace. In fact, organizational dynamics may contribute to escalating incivility and aggressiveness at work—dynamics such as highly diverse workforces, restructuring and staff reductions, decreased resources coupled with increased productivity expectations, and autocratic management styles (Estes & Wang, 2008). As the communicative complexity increases in changing organizations, so do the occasions for uncivil and rude communication. This is especially true for organizations in which change has not yet stabilized—where former work norms are no longer valid but new norms have yet to cohere or emerge (Salin D., 2003).

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Analysis of Workplace Negativity

        Incivility in organizational settings is also complicated by characteristics unique to workplace communication. Researchers have argued that negative social interaction at work may have more negative consequences on the individual than negative interactions in other settings (Bowling, & Beehr, 2006). A critical analysis of the literature suggests that workplace negativity may be worse than other types of incivility for a variety of reasons. First, negative interaction at work is embedded in a situation with potential formal and informal power and status inequalities between the parties that, at times, make it possible to justify workplace negativity as ...

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