Civility in the workplace - how important is it?

29 January 2018

There’s a lot of pressure on employers and employees in today’s fast-paced, modern workforce. People expect quicker service for less cost, deadlines are stricter and there are always bills to pay. Employers and employees are often at the centre of this pressure and expectation, so it is important that they feel that they can be well and thrive at work.

Research shows that having healthy, productive and engaged employees is a very important part of a healthy business. And there’s one little thing that can make a really big difference to your workplace connectedness – it’s civility between people at work, which is such a simple concept yet can reap great rewards. While often overlooked, civility in the workplace can play a significant role in how people feel at work, and how they feel about the workplace.

But what exactly is workplace civility? Civility can be anything from smiling at your colleagues in the morning, greeting them by name, and making eye contact when you’re talking to them to saying, ‘thank you’ when they help you out. None of these things cost money – but harbouring an uncivil workplace could cost you greatly in lost productivity and staff turnover.

Georgetown University McDonough School of Business associate professor Christine Porath has conducted research over the past 18 years on how employees are treated at work. In one study in conjunction with the University of Florida, research showed participants who were treated rudely were 30 per cent less creative than those treated politely.

In another study, Porath polled 800 managers and employees in 17 industries and showed that, for workers who had been treated rudely,

  • 47 per cent intentionally decreased the time spent at work
  • 38 per cent intentionally decreased their work quality
  • 66 per cent said their performance declined
  • 78 per cent said their commitment to the organisation declined
  • 12 per cent left their job
  • 25 per cent admitted to taking their frustration out on customers

The difference that politeness makes in the workplace is significant.

Despite the huge benefits of creating a civil workplace, only 40 per cent of respondents in the 2017 Indicators of a Thriving Workplace Survey, conducted by SuperFriend, answered ‘yes definitely’ for being treated with common workplace courtesy.

Being civil is just one easy step that can make a big difference to employees. As workplace leaders, it’s up to employers to set the standard for respectful staff behaviour. Here are a few civil actions you can take in the workplace to create a positive environment from SuperFriend’s Promoting Positive Mental Health in the Workplace guidelines:

  • Take a positive approach such as viewing mistakes as an opportunity to learn
  • Respect confidentiality
  • Demonstrating faith in others’ abilities
  • Express pride in the accomplishments of others
  • Make an effort to attend others’ special events, such as important presentations
  • Expressing gratitude
  • Act calmly in pressured situations


This article was featured in our monthly e-Newsletter SuperFriend News which provides practical advice for employers to guide them in creating positive, cohesive and productive environments for all employees.