One of the benefits of being self-employed is the variety of workplace cultures I get to experience. Being a bit of an outlier in a company lends some perspective on best and worst practices, and the curious chemistry within particular organizations. I’d like to profile two recent cultures I’ve worked within as a study in culture contrast. Both these examples are large organizations with sites and administrative headquarters around the country, and they have similar pay scales for their employees in customer service. You decide which environment is the more fertile ground for incivility……
Org A is mission driven from top to bottom – the culture is one of dedication and commitment to customer service and reliable, steady financial growth. The C-Suite is largely isolated from those whose job entails daily interactions with customers, but they are committed to keeping their employees trained in safety procedures and inter-personal communication. The pay scale for customer service is on a par with similar organizations in the country, as CS is a vital player in Org A’s health and wellness mission. However, CS workers, many of them women over the age of 40, are often expected to temporarily “pitch in” to help with other functions not in their job description, such as cleaning and light janitorial services, as there is frequent turnover in these areas. There is no subsequent adjustment in pay. Additionally, technology upgrades and software changes are frequent, and training in these programs is often left to the front Desk Managers to provide with materials created by the national office via videos, printed materials, and computer quizzes.
Org B is also mission driven, committed to their customers as well as steady financial growth. There are multiple opportunities within a wide array of categories in which to engage with the public. The C-Suite is almost invisible to the rank and file, but middle managers are carefully chosen, groomed and trained for empowering their employees to take on leadership roles. Pay rates for those who engage daily with the public are rather low, but there are multiple paid opportunities to lead special projects – some of them designed by customer service workers. The employee population of Org B spans generations and includes many members of the multicultural immigrant community. Oftentimes, the requirements of this working environment demand quick change, good communication skills and flexibility. Training is mostly an apprenticeship, on-the-job situation.
So what do you think? The winner for most incivility is definitely Org A. Why? Do they have more bullying personalities? A greater tolerance for rude behavior? According to Christine Porath and Christine Pearson in the HBR article titled “The Price of Incivility”, the key difference between these two working cultures is the gap in the amount of respect shown to their frontline employees. And respect is not always a matter of pay scale – in fact, in some working cultures, particularly with middle managers, there is an unspoken assumption that the higher your salary, the more incivility you are expected to tolerate. The kind of respect that generates better overall monetary outcomes is the kind exhibited by Org B: an active solicitation of employee input, experience and creativity.
Org A, by contrast, was beginning to pay the price of a culture of disrespect in many of the areas cited by Porath and Pearson. In their study of more than 14,000 North American workers, they found that:
48% intentionally decreased their work effort.
47% intentionally decreased the time spent at work.
38% 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.
These are staggering statistics. Given that the overall monetary impact of incivility and toxic conflict in American businesses is calculated at almost $360 billion dollars annually, it appears pretty obvious that the degree of respect we accord each other is a significant factor in business success. A full quarter of the employees in this study admitted to rude treatment of customers? And in further research, Porath cites that customers who simply witnessed someone else being rudely treated by an employee were four times more likely to refuse to do business with that company. Yikes! Sadly, this is an issue that will only increase as our cultural tolerance for incivility is again on display in a high-stakes election season.
I’d love to hear about how respect is intentionally cultivated in your workplace. And, as always, if you need a learning event for your team to develop more civility skills, Shift/POV can get them there in an hour – or less!