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A 12-step managerial civility recovery model.

What does it mean to be civil?

Webster (1997) defines "civil" as norms of polite social intercourse marked by benevolence, and that to be civilized is to be brought out of a savage, uneducated, or rude state. Carter (1998) suggests that civility is the moral basis necessary for human interaction, and that civility begins with an attitude of respect for others. In short, civility means treating others with dignity and respect (Lauer, 2002). Furthermore, as human interactions increase in complexity and frequency, the need for civility becomes greater (Carter, 1998; Chen & Eastman, 1997).

What happens when civility fades?

A number of terms are used to describe the deterioration of civility: incivility, bad manners, rudeness, lack of respect, deviant behavior, dysfunctional behavior, antisocial behavior, etc. Civilized society has a penchant for making rules and laws to govern behavior, and then to administer discipline and punishment to the disobedient to facilitate the peaceful coexistence of the society. Typically, these rules have applied to departures that are more grievous from acceptable civil behavior, but mandates to restore civility result in more regulation of heretofore-unregulated behavior. For example, in an effort to restore respect and discipline in the classroom, Louisiana passed a law requiring K-5 public school students to address teachers as "ma'am" and "sir" or face expulsion or suspension from school for violating the rule (Lovely, 1999).

How does civility function in the workplace?

Civility, as a social norm, is expected in the workplace, but the popular press and a growing body of empirical evidence suggest that uncivil workplace behavior is rampant, increasing, and that the individual and organizational costs are tremendous. John H. Neuman, director of the Center for Applied Management at the State University of New York at New Paltz, says that talk about a leaner, meaner workplace creates an atmosphere where this is more likely to happen (Grimsley, 1998). Cortina, Magley, Williams, & Langhout (2001) found that the more frequent experiences of uncivil workplace behaviors were associated with lower satisfaction with job, supervisors, coworkers, pay and benefits, and promotional opportunities. Donovan, Drasgow, and Munson (1998) found that perceptions of fair interpersonal treatment are related to job satisfaction, work and job withdrawal, an organization's climate for sexual harassment, and experiences of sexual harassment. Employees who experienced uncivil treatment at work reported lower job satisfaction, were more likely to withdraw from their jobs, were more likely to be tardy or absent, and experienced higher levels of psychological problems (The University of Michigan, n.d.). In another study, more than half the workers surveyed said they were distracted by rude behavior and got less done while fuming about it, one fourth said they purposely quit doing their best work, and 12% quit their jobs (Pearson, Andersson, & Porath, 2000). Pearson and Porath (2005) also pointed out that organizational losses stemming from workplace incivility include the time managers spend resolving interpersonal conflicts, the corroding of the organizational culture, lawsuits and resulting settlements.

How do we restore workplace civility?

Workplace incivility appears to be epidemic in the way that it spreads through and infects an organization's culture. "Incivility in the workplace" (2000) reported that the instigator of uncivil behavior is three times more likely to be a person of higher status than the target of uncivil behavior. This seems to point the finger at management and supervisors. Furthermore, Buckingham and Coffman (1999) summarized the meta-analytic findings from more than 100,000 employees surveyed from a broad range of more than 2,500 business units and concluded that if people have a bad manager, they are more likely to look for another job. Unlike the state of Louisiana, which has chosen to restore respect from the bottom up, we propose that respect and civility be restored from the top down.

When they recognize that human resources are the most important and most valuable organizational assets, managers accept the underlying philosophy that sets the stage for cultural change in their organizations. By actively treating all employees with dignity and respect, managers will lead by example and be on the path to restoring civility in the workplace. The following 12-step plan is designed to guide managers and their organizations up the path to civilization.

12-Step Managerial Civility Recovery Model

STEP 1: Recognize that human resources are the most important and most valuable organizational assets and that managerial actions and behaviors should communicate and reinforce the organizational affirmation of this premise. In other words, managers should lead by example.

STEP 2: Recognize that all employees should be treated with dignity and respect. Management's duty to make decisions is not abrogated in any way, but the method of communicating and interacting with employees should be tempered by the knowledge that all people are valuable.

STEP 3: Managers should study acceptable and expected behavioral and cognitive models.

STEP 4: Each manager should make a searching and fearless behavioral and cognitive inventory of his or her own thoughts and actions.

STEP 5: Each manager should discover the exact nature of his or her behaviors that need correcting. It is advised that this discovery be shared with another person, who can act as an accountability partner for behavioral change.

STEP 6: Each manager should be committed to improving his or her civil behavior.

STEP 7: Each manager should practice and model acceptable and expected behaviors and cognitive processes.

STEP 8: Managers should make a list of employees they have mistreated in the past.

STEP 9: Managers should make amends with employees they have personally mistreated in the past.

STEP 10: Managers should continue to take personal inventory and when wrong, be prompt to admit it.

STEP 11: Managers should have an accountability partner or confidant to offer an objective critique of their progress. Feedback from employees may be solicited to the extent that feedback is anonymous or voluntary.

STEP 12: Managers should lead by example, practicing these principles at work and in all their affairs. Management should also demand that employees treat one another in accord with civil behavior.

The Road to Recovery

This model presents a framework for identifying and correcting relationships eroded by poor civil behaviors, especially by managers. Underlying this model is the assumption that uncivil behavior is a correctable bad habit. This systematic procedure covers problem recognition, identifying desired behaviors, commitment to change, and individual accountability. This is a continuous improvement process, in which treating people with dignity and respect is the ultimate goal.

Implementing a civility recovery plan can be as simple as making managers aware of the consequences of uncivil behavior, and then challenging each manager to evaluate his or her practices and make changes. A lecture or workshop venue can enhance the delivery of the civility message. More vigorous implementation plans include an "Employee Perceptions of Managerial Civility Survey" to establish a baseline measure of corporate civility. After instructing managers in the 12-step civility recovery model and after a period of 6-12 months, a follow-up measure of the civility survey should reveal any improvements. Assessing the utility of the civility plan with pre- and post- measures of absenteeism, turnover, and productivity (as potential correlates of civility) is yet an additional option. Whether simple or complex, this is a win-win plan that needs regular review. At a minimum, we should all expect, and demand, civil workplaces.


Buckingham, M. & C. Coffman (1999). First, Break All the Rules. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Carter, S. L. (1998). Civility: Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy. New York: Basic Books.

Chen, C. C., & W. Eastman (1997). Toward a Civic Culture for Multicultural Organizations. Journal of Applied Behavioral Sciences, 33,454-470.

Cortina, L. M., V. J. Magley, J. H. Williams, & R. D. Langhout (2001). Incivility in the Workplace: Incidence and Impact. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 6, 64-80.

Donovan, M. A., E Drasgow, & L. J. Munson (1998). The Perceptions of Fair Interpersonal Treatment Scale: Development and Validation of a Measure of Interpersonal Treatment in the Workplace. Journal of Applied Psychology, 83, 683-692.

Grimsley, K. D. (1998, July 12). Slings and Arrows on the Job: Incivility at Work Can Hurt Profits as Well as Feelings. The Washington Post, p. H1.

Incivility in the Workplace. (2000). Worklife Report, 13, 10.

Laver, C. S. (2002). The End of Civility?. Modern Healthcare, 32(9), 29-31.

Lovely, G. (1999). Old-fashioned Respect Mandated. Curriculum Administrator, 35, 11.

Pearson, C. M. & C. L. Porath (2005). On the Nature, Consequences, and Remedies of Workplace Incivility: No Time for "Nice"? Think Again. The Academy of Management Executive, 19, 7-18.

Pearson, C. M., L. M. Andersson, & C. L. Porath (2000). Assessing and Attacking Workplace Incivility. Organizational Dynamics, 29, 123-137.

The University of Michigan. (n.d.). Rudeness at Work is Costly. Retrieved January 8, 2007, from

Webster's Universal College Dictionary. (1997). New York: Gramercy Books, Inc.

Mitchell Crocker & Cathy Henderson

Stephen E Austin State University

Mitchell Crocker is Associate Professor of Management at Stephen E Austin University in Nacogdoches, Texas. His work and research focus on Human Resource Management with emphasis on work relationships.

Cathy Henderson is a Lecturer of Management at Stephen E Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. She is active in The National Association of Purchasing Managers and is a Faculty sponsor of Beta Gamma Sigma and the Society of Advancement of Management, all at SFASU.
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Author:Crocker, Mitchell; Henderson, Cathy
Publication:People & Strategy
Date:Sep 1, 2008
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