Better Civility at Work Helps Retention, Production

September 26

I was enjoying brunch last Sunday when a waitress ripped off her apron, threw it at the Restaurant Manager and screamed—yes screamed—“I quit. I’m sick of being demeaned. I’m sick of everything”. There was a collective pause in the restaurant as she turned and walked out. No one spoke and forks were held suspended as the manager rolled the apron in a ball and smirked.

I didn’t know the back-story but I was cheering for the waitress based on the manager’s response. He appeared rude, condescending and pompous. It made me uncomfortable.

Apparently, the waitress is not alone.

According to a recent study conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA), 71% of workers say they have been insulted, demeaned, ignored or otherwise treated discourteously by their bosses. And, it doesn’t stop there as an even higher number, 86%, reported experiencing a lack of civility at work, when co-workers were included.

Several things happen in the workplace when rudeness, insults and just plain old bad manners are commonplace. Employees tend to disengage from work and become less productive, take unnecessary sick days, and are more likely to make mistakes. They also walk off the job.

No study has been able to absolutely pinpoint the reason for this increase in a lack of civility but my guess is that people are simply worn out. Companies are laying off workers while expecting to keep productivity up — and the niceties suffer. The uncertainty of the economy has gone on for so long, workers may remain scared of losing their jobs, but they also have become essentially numb.

Researcher and psychologist Paul Fairlie, who worked on the APA’s study, reports “younger people are seeing what work did to their parents and they are saying ‘I’m not paying my dues. I’m going backpacking and then I’ll come back and get a job.” Since that group (Generation Y, aged 33 and younger) accounts for more than 50% of all workers, it’s not a good thing.

The overall unemployment rate continues to be an uncomfortable 9.1% but college-educated workers have an unemployment rate of 4.3%. Healthcare workers are 5.1% unemployed and the war for Information Technology (IT) talent has been seriously heating up and currently has a 3.1% unemployment rate. The fact there is $25 billion in stimulus funds allocated for healthcare systems that meet certain implementation deadlines for digitalizing medical records; IT workers will continue to be in high demand.

People are holding on, but it is doubtful that everyone will be able to hold on forever. Almost half of the IT workforce will be eligible for retirement in the next ten years and not only is 11.1% of the Registered Nurse workforce aged 60 or older, it is projected that a shortage of 586,000 RNs will be real by 2018.

So it doesn’t really matter if it is the weak economy, the prolonged summer heat wave or the fact the dog ate the boss’s lunch; it is inappropriate for superiors and co-workers to take it out on each other. It is also very good business to demand civility on the job. According to a recent national poll, 48% of healthcare workers said they were planning on finding a new job within the next 12 months.

Front line managers continue to be the most important element at controlling the work environment. But so many are, themselves, worn out; it is necessary to remind them about what makes good retention happen.

People are not complicated, but they want to feel they are important and yes, even special. In some combination of communication, reviews and day-to-day experience, employees want:

  • for an employer to do what is right
  • to be understood individually
  • to be appreciated
  • to feel included and
  • to be part of something bigger than themselves.

Some of your top performers know they can get another job. If they feel their current practice is uncomfortable, they will begin looking for other opportunities. In healthcare, because it is a female driven profession, there are two times in the calendar year when most professionals who are thinking about searching for another job, begin to take action. The last week of September, all of October and the first week in November and then the last week in January, all of February and the first week in March.

Those two times are when the children are back in school, on a routine and in between holidays, Spring Break, Mother’s Day and summer vacation. So, now’s the time to consider shoring up the pleasantness within the work environment, training the front-line manager how to make people feel valued and remembering these are tough times for everyone. It’ll mean better retention as well as simply doing the right thing.

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