OB ON THE EDGE
The Toxic Workplace
It’s not unusual to find the following employee behaviours in today’s workplace: Answering the phone with a “yeah,” neglecting to say thank you or please, using voice mail to screen calls, leaving a half cup of coffee behind to avoid having to brew the next pot, standing uninvited but impatiently over the desk of someone engaged in a telephone conversation, dropping trash on the floor and leaving it for the maintenance crew to clean up, and talking loudly on the phone about personal matters.1 Some employers or managers fit the following descriptions: In the months since [the new owner of the pharmacy] has been in charge [he] has made it clear ...view middle of the document...
However, with downsizing, reengineering, budget cuts, pressures for increased productivity, autocratic work environments, and the use of part-time employees, there has been an increase in “uncivil and aggressive workplace behaviours.”5 What does civility in the workplace mean? A simple definition of workplace civility is behaviour “involving politeness and regard for others in the workplace, within workplace norms for respect.”6 Workplace incivility then “involves acting with disregard for others in the workplace, in violation of workplace norms for respect.”7 Of course, different workplaces will have different norms for what determines mutual respect. For instance, in most restaurants, if the staff were rude to you when you were there for dinner, you would be annoyed, and perhaps even complain to the manager. However, at the Elbow Room Cafe in downtown Vancouver, if customers complain they are in a hurry, manager Patrick Savoie might well say, “If you’re in a hurry, you should have
gone to McDonald’s.”8 Such a comeback is acceptable to the diners at the Elbow Room Cafe, because rudeness is its trademark. Most work environments are not expected to be characterized by such rudeness. However, this has been changing in recent years. Robert Warren, a University of Manitoba marketing professor, notes that “simple courtesy has gone by the board.”9 There is documented evidence of the rise of violence and threats of violence at work. 10 However, several studies have found that there is persistent negative behaviour in the workplace that is not of a violent nature.11 For instance, a survey of 603 Toronto nurses found that 33 percent had experienced verbal abuse during the five previous days of work.12 Another study found that 78 percent of employees interviewed think that workplace incivility has increased in the past 10 years.13 The researchers found that men are mostly to blame for this change: “Although men and women are targets of disrespect and rudeness in equal numbers . . . men instigate the rudeness 70 percent of the time.”14 Rude behaviour is not confined to men, however. Professor André Roberge at Laval University suggests that some of the rudeness is generational. He finds that “young clerks often lack both knowledge and civility. Employers are having to train young people in simple manners because that is not being done at home.”15 Professor Warren backs this up: “One of the biggest complaints I hear from businesses when I go to talk about graduates is the lack of interpersonal skills.”16
workplace, including aggression and violence.17 Pierre Lebrun chose a deadly way to exhibit the anger he had stored up from his workplace. 18 He took a hunting rifle to Ottawa-Carleton– based OC Transpo and killed four public transit co-workers on April 6, 1999, before turning the gun on himself. Lebrun felt that he had been the target of harassment by his coworkers for years because of his stuttering. If this sounds like an unusual response for an...