'Rudeness is one of the biggest issues facing workplaces today': leadership expert

Emily Drake still remembers an early encounter with uncivil behaviour on the job. She had just started working in the film and television industry and her new boss was yelling at her and others on the production set could hear it.

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Incivility in the workplace can affect employees' job performance, motivation and commitment to an organization. (Omar Gurnah/Flickr CC)

Emily Drake still remembers an early encounter with uncivil behaviour on the job.

She was working in the film and television industry. Her new boss was yelling at her and other people on the production set could hear it.

"I could not have done a thing right to save my life," Drake said.

She said things were "pretty rude, every single day."

CBC Manitoba recently spoke with Drake, a former Winnipegger, for a new series called "The Loss of Civility." Each week in March, we'll look at a different issue on CBC Radio One and online.
Former Winnipegger Emily Drake remembers how she felt when she first encountered rude behaviour on the job. (Molly Clayton)

When it comes to dealing with incivility in the workplace, Drake is far from alone.

"Rudeness is one of the biggest issues facing workplaces today," leadership consultant and executive coach Craig Dowden said.

Dowden, who has spent a lot of time examining the research around workplace incivility, said about half of people say they're treated rudely at work at least once a week. Dowden wrote a white paper about incivility for the Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada, after a survey of the federal public service in 2014 found nearly one in five workers claimed to be victims of harassment on the job.


Dowden described incivility as "insidious" and said examples can be found every day.

"Neglecting to turn off cell phones, texting openly in front of people, talking behind other people's backs, particularly in terms of sharing hurtful comments, personal attacks, taking credit for someone else's work or ideas, not saying please or thank you."
Leadership consultant Craig Dowden says workplace incivility is a huge problem that is often ignored. (Supplied by Craig Dowden)

Dowden said what makes dealing with incivility at work particularly challenging, is that too often the behaviours are dismissed by both employees and employers, because they are seen as "small acts."

And left unchecked, Dowden said incivility can be damaging in the short and long term, affecting employees' commitment to an organization, job performance and motivation.

Drake experienced some of that.

"Certainly for me, I did only what I had to do and nothing more," Drake remembered.

"There is a moment where you don't want to step outside what is a really basic set of functions, because if you're going to be screamed at, you're not going to start taking initiative, in case the screaming accelerates or the negativity becomes unbearable," she said.


After 15 years in the film and television business, Drake decided to do something about incivility and added some formality to her workplace. About one year ago, she started calling people by their last names, with the appropriate prefix of Mr., Miss, Mrs. or Ms.

Drake said the results were immediate. "It actually created a level of distance between us and removed any false sense of familiarity," she said.

"It changed the entire game for me and I will never go back to the old way."

Drake said she hopes if we start with respect first, then everyone walks away with respect in the end.

Listen to CBC's Information Radio Monday at 7:40 a.m. for a conversation about rudeness on the job, as part of CBC Manitoba's series The Loss of Civility.