Sunday, 18 August 2013

Lost Employees,Lost Customers & Lost Productivity

A young friend from the education industry brought to my attention  an interesting article "The price of Incivility" published in the Jan-Feb issue of the Harvard Business Review. The article discusses the losses caused by incivility in business or work place that can actually be converted in terms of money. We generally know that incivility is not good and that it does adversely affect work. In the article however, the authors point out that the losses can in fact be arrived in terms of hard cash. The article mentions that even in a "exemplary work place" like that of CISCO, incivility cost was estimated at $12 million a year.

The article goes on to discuss methods of how we can improve civility in the work place which include hiring for civility and making civility an important element of performance appraisal. I felt an uncanny similarity between some of the things discussed in this article and the subject matter of my post "Back to the Basics" in this very blog. Uncivil behaviour mentioned in the article include  door slamming, side conversations/ exclusions and blatant disregard for people's time. It can take subtle forms such as sending Emails during a presentation or boss who "teases" direct reports in ways that sting.

 These days uncivil behaviour seems to have become a way of life. I was recently attending a national conference of the prestigious Madras Management Association in Chennai. The conference had just begun with the key note address in progress and I was seated in one of  the front rows. A gentleman seated next to me  opened his I pad and was absorbed  in it. To me this was clearly unacceptable as this not only meant disrespecting the speaker but also disturbing me the neighbour. "This could as well have been done at home, why drive this far to work on it? "I muttered under my breath. To this the gentleman responded Ï beg your pardon!" So this time I repeated my thoughts clearly. In all fairness to the gentleman he immediately closed the I pad and focused on the deliberations of the conference. In the times we are presently living in, it is possible that people do not even realize that they are exhibiting uncivil behaviour.

The HBR article goes on to say that in the face of incivility creativity suffers, performance & team spirit suffers  and customers turn away.Uncivil behaviour in public, in  the presence of customers puts them off  and they are not likely to buy from that organization even if the bad behaviour is not aimed at them  directly but is  an altercation  between two employees. If employees are targets of incivility they could knowingly or unknowingly  take revenge by  coming  through negatively before the customer ,thus adversely affecting business.

 I recently visited a multi product show room of a well known distributer who has  branches in various parts of Chennai city. My aim in entering the Puraswalkam branch was to buy a suitable suit case for travel. On the way up to the 4th floor I asked for directions and also observed the employees. I had feeling that the whole place was overstaffed and employees more busy chatting up amongst themselves rather than paying attention to the customers. When I reached the suitcase section, the sales person who attended to me was cordial enough but there was a general feeling of discomfort in my body  and finally I ended up leaving without making the purchase from that place.

The costs of incivility  mentioned  in the HBR  article which is based on a poll involving 800 persons in 17 industries reveals that among employees who have been at the receiving end of incivility
  • 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 frustrations out on customers
The article has suggested that employees/ leaders  look at themselves to see where they stand in terms of appropriate behaviour  and keep tabs on progress. At the organizational level hiring for civility, teaching civility, creating group norms, rewarding good behaviour and penalizing bad behaviour will go a long way in creating the appropriate climate.

In my "Back to the Basics" post quite a bit of what is mentioned above was discussed. It did not however have the backing of solid data based on research. Now with the availability of  the above facts, it is all the more reason for us to acknowledge the basics. the bedrock of which is respect for every one around you , whether colleagues or customers. When basics are in place we do not have to fear loss of employees, customers or productivity. On the other hand. complacency and a disinclination to act could make the title of this post a distinct possibility.
 Good Luck! 


  1. hi there chettan ,i have just read this article and and the points you have told is absolutely correct,it happens in all fileds and i also experienced it.hats off to your blog ,and i have never entered the blog society till now and this stuff is really intresting

  2. by the way i am rishi ,as my id name is nash stud,i just posted my name

  3. Hi nashStud/Rishi, happy to learn that you liked the article & that this has opened the window for you to the world of blogs. Looking forward to your continuing interest & feedback.

  4. Hi Rajeev,
    Yes, I agree. As mentioned, this has become a way of life and has gone unnoticed to a greater extent. The %s too reflect the same. only 12% said that they left their job because of the uncivil treatment,25% admitted to taking their frustrations out on customers. Uncivility is not acceptable for an individual @home but seldom thinks about this in a corporate environment. In IT environment one of the very common one is putting the phone on hold while attending a conference call... unacceptable.. all of these though seems naive but has negative impacts and requires an inner call within onself on the basics ..

  5. Thank you Sundar for sharing your thoughts and also giving us an idea of the IT environment. In fact you were sharp to notice the irony from the statistics that fewer people leave due to incivility than the mich higher percentage who stay & vent out thier feelings.
    Warm Regards

  6. Dear Rajeev,

    Your blog was just fantastic and very revealing. I was dumbfounded by the stats you had given. As we all know, basic decency evolves from home and this has to be inculcated from childhood by ones parents (also part of curriculum in schools). Thus the basic training lies embedded in his mind and follows the person to his workplace at the later stage, and continues as a way of life. I have noticed educated people talking loudly on their mobile phones at a funeral, inside a movie hall etc and like you said , i was forced to step in and rectify the incivility. It is indeed a great idea to include this as a part of performance appraisal, but it involves initial training with targeted goals on the subject.

    Very good write up dear friend; do keep it up.

    thanks and regards/ k.krishnakumar

  7. Thank you Krishna for your valuable insights.As you have pointed out, civility is learnt early from teachers & parents.I remember many years ago when we were in school, it had become the in thing amongst teenagere to wear long hair but the school rules clearly specified short hair. The principal sent word for the parent of one student who seemed to continuously ignore the rule on long hair.
    Finally the father arrived & after the prinicipal had spent about 20 minutes making small talk, he bid farewell to the parent without mentioing a word about the problem for which he had been called- The father infact had longer hair!
    Our real training to the younger generation is by the way of our actual behaviour in everyday life. But as you said it could be a great idea to include civility in the school curriculum. We used to have moral science & civics as a part of our curriculum. I am not sure whether they have these subjects these days.

    Do read all my articles & give your feedback. It is feedback that makes the exercise complete. Thanks once again pal.

  8. Dear Rajeev,

    This is Vijayaraaghavan from MSSW .
    I feel good civil behavior can't be taught but should be learnt by mere observation or through social learning . There is a direct relationship between civil behavior with , values , perception and culture . "charity begins from home" , its not only charity that begins from home but also the threshold of civility starts from home.
    Strong values,morale and beliefs are the base for civil and righteous behavior and being aware about the surrounding i.e physical environment gives the opportunity to be "uniformed" or being conscious about our actions and attributes.
    There are some simple ways of eradicating incivility among the people be it at workplace, school or college
    1. Identifying the values , ethics , and attitude of ourselves
    2. Making an positive effort to identify the uniformity and culture which exist in the institution
    3. Finding out the gap or the differences
    4. Making an initiative to rectify not for the betterment of others but for our own self improvement .


  9. I had gone ISCON, Ramakrishna Madam, JK Foundations... here people and things are peace... Is it possible to bring this culture to the corporate world..

  10. It could be great if we could.From calmess and peace, work of higher quality emerges...
    Thanks & Regards

  11. I feel here "ATTITUDE" of ourself towards other peoples and at work matters a lot along with culture insights in & outside workplace. Right behavior of peoples in every aspects plays a key role in improving work-life balance.

    Best Regards,