Christine Porath has raised the issue of incivility in the workplace in an opinion piece titled “No Time To Be Nice At Work” which appeared in last week’s The New York Times Sunday Review. Over the past twenty years Porath has been instrumental in raising the issue of the negative effects incivility has on workers, the workplace, and companies.

Unfortunately, despite efforts by her and others, incivility in the workplace has grown rather than declined. Fifteen years ago, the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina surveyed 1,700 workers and found that 55 percent of them indicated they had been treated rudely. Interestingly, the study also found that the instigator of the uncivil behavior was three times more likely to be a manager or boss than to be a colleague or co-worker.


In 2014, The Emily Post Institute conducted a nationwide poll using SurveyMonkey Audience, a proprietary online panel. Respondents for the Emily Post Survey were selected to mirror the age and gender proportions of the current population of adults according to the US Census. The Emily Post Survey found the same trend that Porath reported: Incivility — make that rudeness — in the workplace is on the rise; 67 percent of workers responding to the Emily Post Survey indicated that they had experienced rudeness.

What accounts for the increase? The Emily Post Survey found that the instigator was no longer three times more likely to be a person of higher status. In the Emily Post Survey, the instigator was as likely to be a colleague as it was a person in a supervisory position. That larger pool of workers is starting to treat colleagues rudely and that fact helps account for the increase in workers reporting being treated rudely.

Workers will tend to mimic actions of their bosses, just as children will learn from and mimic actions of their parents. If a boss exhibits rude behavior, it makes sense that people working for the boss will tend to adopt rude behaviors themselves.


Does a rude workplace environment really matter to a company’s bottom line? The reality is it does. The Emily Post Survey found that 53 percent of workers who were treated rudely reported losing work time worrying about the incident. In addition, 27 percent of workers who were treated rudely actually decreased their work effort. That means reduced productivity. Even more troubling for a company is that 15 percent chose to leave the job because of the rude behavior. No company can afford the cost of having to replace a valued worker simply because he or she is being treated rudely.

The bottom line: Incivility and rudeness have negative effects on profits and productivity. The good news is that by encouraging an atmosphere of consideration and respect, hallmarks of etiquette, the result is a positive, civil, workplace where the focus is on getting the job done.

E-mail questions about business etiquette to etiquetteatwork@emilypost.com.