Workplace incivility has been defined as low-intensity deviant behavior with ambiguous intent to harm the target. Uncivil behaviors are characteristically rude and discourteous, displaying a lack of regard for others.[1] The authors hypothesize there is an "incivility spiral" in the workplace made worse by "asymmetric global interaction".[1]

Incivility is distinct from aggression. The reduction of workplace incivility is an area for ongoing industrial and organizational psychology research.

Surveys on occurrence and effects

A summary of research conducted in Europe suggests that workplace incivility is common there.[2] In research on more than 1000 U.S. civil service workers, Cortina, Magley, Williams, and Langhout (2001) found that more than 70% of the sample experienced workplace incivility in the past five years.[2] Similarly, Laschinger, Leiter, Day, and Gilin found that among 612 staff nurses, 67.5% had experienced incivility from their supervisors and 77.6% had experienced incivility from their coworkers.[3] In addition, they found that low levels of incivility along with low levels of burnout and an empowering work environment were significant predictors of nurses' experiences of job satisfaction and organizational commitment.[3] Incivility was associated with occupational stress and reduced job satisfaction. Other research shows that workplace incivility relates to job stress, depression, and life satisfaction as well.[4]

After conducting more than six hundred interviews with "employees, managers, and professionals in varying industries across the United States" and collecting "survey data from an additional sample of more than 1,200 employees, managers, and professionals representing all industrial categories in the United States and Canada", Pearson and Porath wrote in 2004 that "The grand conclusion: incivility does matter. Whether its costs are borne by targets, their colleagues, their organizations, their families, their friends outside work, their customers, witnesses to the interactions, or even the instigators themselves, there is a price to be paid for uncivil encounters among coworkers."[5] Citing previous research (2000) Pearson writes that "more than half the targets waste work time worrying about the incident or planning how to deal with or avert future interactions with the instigator. Nearly 40 percent reduced their commitment to the organization; 20 percent told us that they reduced their work effort intentionally as a result of the incivility, and 10 percent of targets said that they deliberately cut back the amount of time they spent at work."[6]

Studies suggest that social support can buffer the negative effects of workplace incivility. Individuals who felt emotionally and organizationally socially supported reported fewer negative consequences (less depression and job stress, and higher in job and life satisfaction) of workplace incivility compared to those who felt less supported.[4] Research also suggests that the negative effects of incivility can be offset by feelings of organizational trust and high regard for one's workgroup.[7]

Subtle/covert examples

Examples at the more subtle end of the spectrum include:[1]

Overt examples

Somewhere between the extremes are numerous everyday examples of workplace rudeness and impropriety including:[8]

Other overt forms of incivility might include emotional tirades and losing one's temper.[8]

Corporate symptoms of long term incivility

  1. Higher than normal employee turnover.[9]
  2. A large number of employee grievances and complaints.[9]
  3. Lost work time by employees calling in sick.[9]
  4. Increased consumer complaints.[9]
  5. Diminished productivity in terms of quality and quantity of work.[9]
  6. Cultural and communications barriers.[9]
  7. Lack of confidence in leadership.[9]
  8. Inability to adapt effectively to change.[9]
  9. Lack of individual accountability.[9]
  10. Lack of respect.[9]



A number of studies have shown that women are more likely than men to experience workplace incivility and its associated negative outcomes.[10][11] Research also shows that employees who witness incivility directed toward female coworkers have lower psychological wellbeing, physical health, and job satisfaction, which in turn relates lowered commitment toward the organization and higher job burnout and turnover intentions.[12] Miner-Rubino and Cortina (2004) found that observing incivility toward women related to increased work withdrawal for both male and female employees, especially in work contexts where there were more men.[13]

Other research shows that incivility directed toward same-gender coworkers tends to lead to more negative emotionality for observers.[14] While both men and women felt anger, fear, and anxiety arising from same-gender incivility, women additionally reported higher levels of demoralization after witnessing such mistreatment.[14] Furthermore, the negative effects of same-gender incivility were more pronounced for men observing men mistreating other men than for women observing women mistreating other women.[14] Miner and Eischeid (2012) suggest this disparity reflects men perceiving uncivil behavior as a “clear affront to the power and status they have learned to expect for their group in interpersonal interactions.”[14]

Motherhood status has also been examined as a possible predictor of being targeted for incivility in the workplace.[15] This research shows that mothers with three or more children report more incivility than women with two, one, or zero children.[15] Fathers, on the other hand, report more incivility than men without children, but still less than mothers. While motherhood appears to predict increases in workplace incivility, results also showed that the negative outcomes associated with incivility were mitigated by motherhood status. Fatherhood status, on the other hand, did not mitigate the relationship between incivility and outcomes. Childless women reported more workplace incivility than childless men, and showed a stronger relationship between incivility and negative outcomes than childless men, mothers, and fathers.[15]

Cortina (2008) conceptualizes incivility that amounts to covert practices of sexism and/or racism in the workplace as selective incivility.[16] For example, Ozturk and Berber (2022) demonstrate significant evidence of subtle racism in UK workplaces, where racialized professionals appear to be the main targets of selective incivility.[17]

Related notions

Workplace bullying

Main article: Workplace bullying

Workplace bullying overlaps to some degree with workplace incivility but tends to encompass more intense and typically repeated acts of disregard and rudeness. Negative spirals of increasing incivility between organizational members can result in bullying,[18] but isolated acts of incivility are not conceptually bullying despite the apparent similarity in their form and content. In case of bullying, the intent of harm is less ambiguous, an unequal balance of power (both formal and informal) is more salient, and the target of bullying feels threatened, vulnerable and unable to defend himself or herself against negative recurring actions.[19][20]

Petty authority

Main article: Petty authority

Another related notion is petty tyranny, which also involves a lack of consideration towards others, although petty tyranny is more narrowly defined as a profile of leaders and can also involve more severe forms of abuse of power and of authority.[1]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Andersson, Lynne M.; Pearson, Christine M. (July 1999). "Tit for Tat? The Spiraling Effect of Incivility in the Workplace". The Academy of Management Review. 24 (3): 452–471. doi:10.2307/259136. JSTOR 259136.
  2. ^ a b Cortina, Lilia M.; Magley, Vicki J.; Williams, Jill Hunter; Langhout, Regina Day (2001). "Incivility in the workplace: Incidence and impact". Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. 6 (1): 64–80. doi:10.1037/1076-8998.6.1.64. PMID 11199258.
  3. ^ a b Laschinger, Heather K. Spence.; Leiter, Michael; Day, Arla; Gilin, Debra (2009). "Workplace empowerment, incivility, and burnout: Impact on staff nurse recruitment and retention outcomes". Journal of Nursing Management. 17 (3): 302–11. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2834.2009.00999.x. PMID 19426367.
  4. ^ a b Miner, K. N.; Settles, I. H.; Pratt-Hyatt, J. S.; Brady, C. C. (2012). "Experiencing Incivility in Organizations: The Buffering Effects of Emotional and Organizational Support". Journal of Applied Social Psychology. 42 (2): 340–372. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.2011.00891.x.
  5. ^ Christine M. Pearson, Christine L. Porath (2004). "On Incivility, Its Impact and Directions for Future Research". In Ricky W. Griffin and Anne O'Leary-Kelly (ed.). The Dark Side of Organizational Behavior. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 403–404. ISBN 978-0-7879-6223-4.
  6. ^ Christine M. Pearson, Christine L. Porath (2004). "On Incivility, Its Impact and Directions for Future Research". In Ricky W. Griffin and Anne O'Leary-Kelly (ed.). The Dark Side of Organizational Behavior. John Wiley & Sons. p. 412. ISBN 978-0-7879-6223-4.
  7. ^ Miner-Rubino, K.; Reed, W. D. (2010). "Testing a Moderated Mediational Model of Workgroup Incivility: The Roles of Organizational Trust and Group Regard". Journal of Applied Social Psychology. 40 (12): 3148–3168. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.2010.00695.x.
  8. ^ a b Johnson, Pamela R.; Indvik, Julie (2001). "Slings and arrows of rudeness: incivility in the workplace". Journal of Management Development. 20 (8): 705–714. doi:10.1108/EUM0000000005829.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "9 signs your work place needs civility, 6 steps to achieve it - TechJournal". Archived from the original on 2015-06-09. Retrieved 25 September 2014.
  10. ^ Bjorkqvist, K.; Osterman, K.; Hjelt-Back, M. (1994). "Aggression among university employees". Aggressive Behavior. 20 (3): 173–184. doi:10.1002/1098-2337(1994)20:3<173::AID-AB2480200304>3.0.CO;2-D.
  11. ^ Cortina, Lilia M.; Lonsway, Kimberly A.; Magley, Vicki J.; Freeman, Leslie V.; Collinsworth, Linda L.; Hunter, Mary; et al. (2002). "What's gender got to do with it? Incivility in the federal courts". Law and Social Inquiry. 27 (2): 235–270. doi:10.1111/j.1747-4469.2002.tb00804.x. hdl:2027.42/72366. S2CID 73723515.
  12. ^ Miner-Rubino, K.; Cortina, L. M. (2007). "Beyond targets: Consequences of vicarious exposure to misogyny at work". Journal of Applied Psychology. 92 (5): 1254–1269. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.92.5.1254. PMID 17845084.
  13. ^ Miner-Rubino, Kathi; Cortina, Lilia M (2004). "Working in a Context of Hostility Toward Women: Implications for Employees' Well-Being". Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. 9 (2): 107–122. CiteSeerX doi:10.1037/1076-8998.9.2.107. PMID 15053711.
  14. ^ a b c d Miner, K.; Eischeid, A. (2012). "Observing Incivility toward Coworkers and Negative Emotions: Do Gender of the Target and Observer Matter?". Sex Roles. 66 (7–8): 492–505. doi:10.1007/s11199-011-0108-0. S2CID 145591501.
  15. ^ a b c Miner-Rubino, K. "Does Being a Mom Help or Hurt? Workplace Incivility as a Function of Motherhood Status" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the AWP Annual Conference, Marriott Newport Hotel, Newport, Rhode Island. 2014-11-30 from[dead link]
  16. ^ Cortina, Lilia M. (2008). "Unseen injustice: incivility as modern discrimination in organizations". Academy of Management Review. 33 (1): 55–75. doi:10.5465/amr.2008.27745097.
  17. ^ Ozturk, Mustafa B.; Berber, Aykut (2022). "Racialised professionals' experiences of selective incivility in organisations: A multi-level analysis of subtle racism". Human Relations. 75 (2): 213–39. doi:10.1177/0018726720957727.
  18. ^ Beale, Diane (2001). "Monitoring bullying in the workplace". In Tehrani, Noreen (ed.). Building a culture of respect: managing bullying at work. London: Routledge. pp. 77–94. ISBN 978-0-415-24648-4.
  19. ^ Rayner, Charlotte; Hoel, Helge; Cooper, Cary L. (2002). Workplace bullying: what we know, who is to blame, and what can we do?. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-24062-8.[page needed]
  20. ^ Peyton, Pauline Rennie (2003). Dignity at work: eliminate bullying and create a positive working environment. London: Brunner-Routledge. ISBN 978-1-58391-238-6.[page needed]

Further reading


Academic papers