Good manners are the foundation for building positive relationships with bosses, coworkers, and employees. They are essential in creating a healthy work environment, maintaining a competent workforce, and inspiring confidence in employees. The best teams are those where each member feels valued and respected.

Leaders in public service should lead with respect, appreciation, and especially civility. But having good manners in the workplace has become increasingly difficult. Leaders seem keener to assert authority than to earn respect.

Incivility in the workplace

A 2014 survey of the federal public service reported that nearly one in five workers claimed to be victims of harassment on the job. Accountemps, a Toronto employment agency, found that 70 per cent of respondents surveyed felt that the more prestigious the job title, the less polite their supervisors or co-workers tended to be.

Forbes magazine published a global annual poll on workplace incivility in 2016. It showed that 62 per cent of employees were treated rudely at work at least once a month. It also found that, since the poll’s launch in 1998, rude behaviour increased at an astounding rate. This means that every year chances go up that your leaders and employees are dismissive, demeaning, or discounting of one another.

Incivility can be damaging in the short and long term, affecting employees’ commitment to their organization, job performance, and motivation. A recent study showed that 78 per cent of people who experience uncivil behaviour from colleagues become less committed to the organization, 66 per cent suffer a decline in overall performance, and 47 per cent deliberately spend less time at work.

Craig Dowden, Certified Positive Psychology Coach, cites behaviours that can lead to a toxic work environment: talking behind someone’s back, publicly doubting someone’s judgement, paying little or no attention to an expressed opinion, taking credit for someone else’s work or ideas, making derogatory remarks.

Overcoming incivility requires a top-down approach. Managers should always demonstrate appropriate behaviour. And they should make it clear what kind of behaviour will not be tolerated. Studies show that when leaders ignore these problems, they send a message that incivility is a tolerated behaviour. Managers should remind their staff about how to treat one another, as well as addressing concerns immediately. Not everything in the workplace will be perfect. There may always be an office jerk.

Some simple things can be done to make the workplace more respectful:

  • Treat others the way you would like to be treated;
  • Develop mindfulness;
  • Say “thank you,” “please,” “good morning,” and “goodbye”; and
  • Acknowledge good work.

Business organizations are beginning to use training to address incivility. A recent study found that customized and targeted training on civility increased morale, boosted self-confidence, and improved collaboration in the workplace. Good manners can keep hard-working people with the organization longer, increase productivity, decrease absences, and build teamwork.

Why Millennials should care about civility

By 2025, Millennials will make up 70 per cent of the workforce. Baby Boomers are retiring in record numbers, and Generation Xers are moving up and relinquishing their seats to Millennials. There are lessons to be learned during the transition. Boomers rely on face-to-face interaction as their preferred style for reading people and situations. They observe good manners and demonstrate at every opportunity what it means to be a “civil” servant. Millennials should watch and learn how Boomers accomplish more by knowing how to treat people.

As Millennials assume new leadership roles, they are expected to display more poise and politeness than their predecessors. In addition to competence built on education, talent, and resilience, they are expected to manage with compassion, kindness, and mindfulness. We want them to model the solution, not to become part of the problem.

Millennials need to understand the importance of good manners to be successful leaders. By active listening, encouragement, and consideration of colleagues, they can help develop a healthy, vibrant workforce. Millennials can leave a special legacy by restoring civility to the workplace.