5 Compelling Reasons to Cultivate a Positive Workplace Culture

A positive workplace culture has a positive effect on the bottom line

I clearly remember one of my colleagues early in my career. Her name was Julie, and she was the Factory Manager at a clothing company where I worked as Manager of Quality Control. I remember Julie’s corner office always being full of the blue haze of cigarette smoke (back in the day, that was considered OK). She was known for being abrasive and sarcastic and would often reduce her staff to tears, by her harsh and blunt delivery of performance feedback, along with personal insults and an overall lack of emotional intelligence. 

I’d recently graduated from a business management program where we had learned about the benefits of positive feedback, encouragement, and respect to motivate staff and achieve results, so witnessing Julie’s approach to leading her team both surprised and disappointed me. She was leading her team through fear and intimidation, and though this was at odds with what I’d learned, she was apparently a successful manager. Or was she? The fact is a negative culture is bad for business, and I’ll explain why below.

A toxic work environment can be hazardous to both psychological and physical health. In many jurisdictions, employers risk legal action if they don’t take steps to protect their employees from these hazards. Above and beyond these risks, an organization that doesn’t address incivility is likely already suffering from reduced productivity, lower customer service and a higher employee turnover rate. 

Since my experience with Julie the Factory Manager, I’ve worked alongside, and reported to, managers with many different leadership styles. I understand why there can be a temptation to be abrasive, abrupt, sarcastic, or downright rude in the workplace at times. We are all human, after all, and there are many pressures both at work and outside of work. Stress, insecurity, anxiety about team performance, inadequate social skills, and lack of leadership training can all contribute to incivility. This shows up in such things as undermining, belittling, teasing, taking credit for others’ work, shaming and blaming others for errors, insults, yelling, and the list goes on.

I think most of us would agree that a civil and respectful workplace is a much more pleasant environment to go to work each day. But did you know that there’s also an impact in terms of the bottom line?

In her excellent book, “Mastering Civility”, Christine Porath lays out a compelling case for leaders to promote and cultivate a positive culture. Based on research described in detail in the book, here are 5 negative consequences that occur when the work environment is marked by incivility.

  1. People intentionally became less productive after being the recipient of uncivil behaviour:
    • 48% decreased their effort, 47% decreased their time at work and 38% decreased the quality of their work. 66% recognized that their performance declined.
  1. People lost work time as a result of an incident where they felt disrespected:
    • 80% reported that they spent time worrying about or ruminating about the incident instead of working
    • 63% reported losing work time through avoiding the person who had upset them
  1. Customer service suffers because the negativity spills over from incivility between employees:
    • Customers who witness negative exchanges between employees are left with a negative impression of the company
    • 25% of employees admitted to taking their frustration out on customers
  1. Managers spend time dealing with the impact of incivility
    • 13% of their time working to mend relationships and deal with the aftermath of incivility (that’s the equivalent of about 2-3 days per month)
  1. Staff retention suffers, as commitment to the job is reduced. 
    • 78% reported feeling lower commitment to their employer
    • 12% reported that they left a position because of incivility directed towards them

Clearly, there’s a strong case for addressing incivility at work, and for building a culture that values treating all people with respect, civility and fairness. This needs to come from the top of the organization – so if you’re at the top, consider how you can make this a part of your overall business strategy. If you’re at the mid-level in the organization, consider what influence you already have to change the culture and start there. And remember that you are always able to make changes in your own behaviour, regardless of your level within the organization. Porath lays out a four-step plan in the book which I highly recommend for further reading.

Also, I’d be happy to explore with you the ways that I can help you to build a more positive workplace culture through my leadership development programs. This could include identifying problem areas, assessing leadership skills, strategizing solutions and achieving behavioural changes. Just contact me for an initial strategy session to discover the possibilities, at no cost or obligation to you.