Passive Leadership Encourages Workplace Negativity

passive_leadershipLet’s admit it, we’ve all forgotten our manners. We are on our phones while others are speaking, we don’t RSVP to invitations, and we don’t acknowledge other people’s presence!  And when this happens in the workplace, it’s a huge problem.

Rude or discourteous behaviors in the workplace is a growing organizational problem that leads to negative outcomes for both employees and employers. Examples include talking negatively about others, checking emails (or worse, texting or even playing games) during work meetings, and just treating each other without respect. Beyond making everyone feel bad, there are also real economic outcomes, such as lowered creativity, job satisfaction, and commitment, as well as increased job turnover and burnout.

Why is rudeness such a problem in the workplace? Well, two reasons. The first is that employees who have been subjected to rude behavior are much more likely to retaliate with rudeness. Research has shown that 94% of employees who have experienced incivility from others have retaliated with similar uncivil behaviors (Porath & Pearson, 2010). So it is very easy for this behavior to spread widely throughout the organization. And so on, and so on. Eventually, this “spiral of incivility” takes its toll on your people, and your business.

Some of the impact of incivility uncovered by research include:

  • 48% of workers intentionally decreased their work effort.
  • 47% of workers intentionally decreased the time spent at work.
  • 38% of workers intentionally decreased the quality of their work.
  • 80% lost work time worrying about the incident.
  • 63% lost work time avoiding the offender.
  • 66% said that their performance declined.
  • 78% said that their commitment to the organization declined.
  • 12% said that they left their job because of the uncivil treatment.
  • 25% admitted to taking their frustration out on customers.

The second reason is the prevalence of passive leadership. Managers who are passive leaders often fail to address actual or potential problems. Because these managers are not proactive problem solvers, they allow employees to engage in workplace rudeness without consequences. A recent study (Harold & Holtz, 2015) showed that passive leadership was positively related to incivility: when the leader utilized a passive leadership style, employees were more likely to report experiencing incivility and engaging in uncivil behaviors.

Workplace incivility results in more negative work-related behavior and attitudes and passive leadership exacerbate these negative effects. Most organizations don’t have a workplace Ms. Manners to remind everyone to play nicely in the sandbox! None the less, leaders and managers alike must be alert to the unobtrusive signs of incivility and nip them in the bud.

Read our blog post on how disengaged employees affect the workplace

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