The workplace is the one place Americans are most likely to find refuge from society’s increasingly pervasive and offensive behavior and language. According to the seventh annual Civility in America poll, 69 percent of Americans identify a “major” civility problem, a record high since the inception of the poll in 2010. An even greater number of Americans — 75 percent — say that incivility in America has risen to crisis levels, a significant increase from 70 percent in January 2016.
However, nearly nine in 10 employed Americans (86 percent) say that their place of employment is civil. Further, nearly two-thirds (63 percent) agree that people are more civil at work than outside of work. Whether there is a financial motivation to act civilly on the job, or because workers know collaboration gets the work done, it seems that the workplace has the potential to be largely an incivility-free zone or refuge from the harsh incivility that has taken root in our public squares.
The Civility in America survey was conducted by Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate with KRC Research in December 2016. For the past seven years, the survey has tracked a perception among Americans that there is a severe civility deficit in our nation. When asked to write in what incivility means to them, respondents most typically refer to it as “rudeness,” “uncivilized” and “anti-social.”
“Leaders of all kinds of organizations and their employees have a responsibility to uphold those values that promote respect,” said Andy Polansky, chief executive office of Weber Shandwick. “Not only is civility core to the identity of an individual workplace and underpins the sense of safety, but building a strong respectful culture has effects far beyond the walls of our organizations. A workplace that deliberately seeks to provide employees with a sanctuary from the incivility of so much of everyday life can ultimately impact critical stakeholders, such as customers and talent, and drive the bottom line.”
The Cost Of Incivility
When incivility does exist in the workplace, the costs to the employer can be significant. Although most employed Americans report they are currently working in civil environments, those who are not report that incivility has negative consequences on the job or at home. Mostly, it hurts employees’ on-the-job morale (55 percent), but there are numerous side effects that have direct financial implications for companies. These include turnover (45 percent), non-collaboration (40 percent), reduced product/service quality (36 percent) and fewer recommendations as a good place to work (33 percent). Nearly one-quarter (23 percent) call in sick because of the work incivility they experience. Incivility in the workplace is costly, but there is a personal price to pay, as 32 percent say incivility at work has negative consequences on their personal lives.
Incivility leads to extreme outcomes in society at large and has serious consequences on an individual basis. The worst repercussions noted by most Americans are intimidation and harassment (89 percent each) and violence and discrimination (88 percent each). Cyberbullying is also a consequence recognized by the vast majority (87 percent), as is less community and political engagement (83 percent and 75 percent, respectively) and feelings of isolation (81 percent).
No Immunity From Incivility
The vast majority of Americans– 84 percent – report having personally experienced incivility, most commonly occurring on the road (56 percent) or while shopping (47 percent). On average, Americans report that they encounter incivility nearly once a day: 3.4 times per week in real life/offline and 3.3 times per week online.
Americans from all walks of life experience incivility. When asked who is the most likely group to experience incivility, Americans put black people (77 percent) at the top of their list, followed by immigrants (73 percent), lower-income people (72 percent), women (72 percent), Muslims (71 percent) and homeless people (71 percent). Upper-income people are perceived to be the most shielded, but not entirely excluded, from incivility (39 percent). Incivility quickly adds up, considering that all Americans fall into multiple demographic segments.
A majority of Americans (56 percent) expect civility to further erode. Those who predict a more uncivil future hold several parties responsible, but blame is focused primarily on politicians (75 percent), the Internet/social media (69 percent) and the news media (59 percent). Blame on the Internet and social media has increased over the years: Prior to January 2016, the rate of Americans blaming the Internet/social media had not reached 60 percent. Americans are least likely to blame Corporate America (31 percent), police/law enforcement officials (30 percent), and college students (22 percent).
“Many Americans believe incivility has reached dangerous levels because social media’s great strength – its ability to reach vast audiences simultaneously – includes a great weakness,” says Pam Jenkins, president, Global Public Affairs, Weber Shandwick. “Social media is meant to connect us, but ironically and painfully the angry rhetoric on display often distances users from one another and causes many Americans to disconnect from each other. To maintain a civil and open society, it’s critical to find more effective ways to engage both opponents and proponents online.”
There is a desire among Americans to see some action taken to improve civility in America. They are most likely to choose a solution that puts the onus on social media sites and search engines to curb today’s rampant onslaught of fake news (58 percent), although other solutions are also of interest to at least one-third of people: civility training in schools (49 percent), employees reporting incivility at work to employers (40 percent), making employers responsible for eliminating incivility at work (38 percent), and a national campaign to promote civility (36 percent).
The full Civility in America VII: The State of Civility report is available online.