I’m a fan of Workforce Management magazine and its jam-packed website (link here), but I disagree with the approach taken by the print edition’s January cover story on incivility at work.
Susan G. Hauser’s “The Degeneration of Decorum” is a major feature introduced this way:
Stress caused by rude behavior in the workplace might be costing the U.S. economy billions of dollars a year. Some employers are taking action to restore civility and improve employee morale.
The article goes on to describe the mounting problem of incivility at work, framing the problem as largely one of rudeness and lack of manners.
When it gets to management misbehavior, the idea of bullying finally enters the picture. At that point, it quotes Dr. Gary Namie and references the work of the Workplace Bullying Institute.
However, the piece never explores the fundamental differences between bad manners and targeted, abusive mistreatment.
Editor Ronald J. Alsop closes the issue with a wide-ranging editorial that mentions bullying but largely echoes the themes of incivility and rudeness. While I agree with the advice he quotes from a former CEO — “You can’t have a successful business without happy employees” — I found it disconcerting that he conflated these behaviors into simple variations of bad etiquette.
Abuse vs. incivility
At times I have used terms such as bullying and incivility somewhat interchangeably, and the research on worker mistreatment sometimes mixes and matches the concepts as well.
But we need to be vigilant about reminding ourselves that workplace bullying is fundamentally different than bad manners, in the same way that domestic violence must be distinguished from acting out by an emotionally challenged spouse. When someone is singled out intentionally at work for a course of malicious, health-endangering mistreatment, the behavior has crossed into the realm of abuse.
The January issue is not yet posted to the magazine’s website; typically free online access is provided several months after the publication date. For the table of contents to the issue and trial subscription info, go here.