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Lean, Mean and Downright Nasty

Promote civility and boost productivity

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in Leaders & Managers,Preventing Workplace Violence

You may work in a lean, mean organization. That’s fine, as long as it’s not too mean.

New research shows that incivility can erode profits. In a 1998 survey by the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business, workers who experienced “rude, insensitive, discourteous behavior” were less likely to work hard and more apt to lose time fretting about the incidents.

While tragic cases of workplace violence get banner headlines, it’s the more common examples of rudeness that can chip away at workers’ attitudes and performances. And you don’t have to take it anymore. Here’s how to fight back:

Set a good example. When discussing employees, make most of your comments positive or neutral. Express constructive criticism as needed, but don’t label people in negative terms or make rude remarks. Stick to behavior; avoid giving running commentaries on anyone’s personality.

Managers can breed nastiness by repeatedly referring to staffers harshly. If you insult people (even in a misguided effort to be funny), your subordinates will mimic your style—and up the ante by speaking in even more stinging terms.

Defuse rage, raise morale. Verbal abuse often increases when workers face extreme pressure or psychological trauma. After a drastic downsizing, a supervisor tells us that his boss referred to the survivors as “idiots” for not quitting. “He kept saying that we’re all stupid fools for staying, that we had no brains,” he said. “I guess his constant insults were a coping mechanism.”

Find a healthy way to direct employees’ anxiety or aggression during difficult times. Examples: When your staff makes budget, take them out to celebrate. And jot thank-you notes for jobs well done.

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