The Answer to Workplace Incivility? Good Managers

By Carol Davis

Effective managers remain pivotal to retaining employees in the face of rising rates of workplace incivility, says a report released today.

But they have their work cut out for them. One in four employees reported experiencing rude, disrespectful, or aggressive behavior in the workplace, according to the new meQuilibrium Self Check survey of 5,483 employees.

The most common forms of incivility were identified as being ignored (26.1%), having one’s judgment questioned (24.2%), and coworkers addressing colleagues in an unprofessional manner (17.3%), the report says.

Fewer employees experienced severe forms of workplace incivility, but remains distressingly common, with about one in 20 employees reporting being targeted with angry outbursts, yelled or cursed at, accused of incompetence, or the butt of jokes from coworkers.

Incivility at work is profoundly costly for retention, well-being, and productivity for both employees and the organization as a whole, the report says.

Employees in high-incivility work environments report an elevated risk of job worries (42.4%), burnout (37%), and low motivation (33.5%), all of which affect productivity and turnover. Workplace incivility raises the risk of endorsing “quiet quitting” by 87% and increases fivefold the risk that an individual will seriously consider quitting their job, the report says.

“Additionally, workplace incivility can create a toxic work environment that undermines team cohesion and collaboration, erodes trust between employees and their managers, and can ultimately damage the organization’s reputation,” the report says.


The solution lies with managers who promote team mental well-being and who provide a culture of psychological safety, according to the report.

Psychological safety is the shared belief of team members that it’s OK to take risks, offer suggestions, speak up about concerns, ask questions, and to admit mistakes—all without fear of repercussions. Employees on teams characterized by high levels of psychological safety rarely experience uncivil behavior in the workplace, the report notes.

Managers who are attentive to team well-being can reduce turnover risk by as much as 78%, the report says. That’s because well-supported employees are:

  • 25% less likely to struggle with stress symptoms
  • 33% less likely to have a difficulty in getting motivated in the morning
  • 56% less likely to experience high work stress

“Effective managers who support team mental well-being dramatically improve retention and speed innovation by ensuring psychologically safe environments,” said Jan Bruce, CEO and co-founder, meQuilibrium. “Supportive managers cut burnout risk, boost productivity, and provide an important buffer against incivility.”


The report suggests three avenues for action:

1. Think differently about upskilling and caring for managers. Managers are at higher risk of poor outcomes than the teams they lead, reporting higher levels of stress-related productivity impairment, higher burnout, and elevated turnover risk compared to non-managers.

Reminding managers to put on their own “oxygen mask” first is an important first step so they can lead by modeling resilience while maintaining their own well-being.

2. Think bigger than expanded EAP to solve for productivity and performance. Providing access to wraparound or extended EAP services is a necessary—but limited—step to support employee emotional well-being due in no small part to the stigma attached to seeking help for mental health issues.

Rather than focusing purely on clinical mental health treatment, take a broader approach to advancing well-being.

3. Think beyond symptoms to root causes: address the risks in the psychosocial environment. Conducting an inventory of psychosocial risks in the workplace is an essential, yet underused, step in addressing the underlying causes of diminished well-being at work.

A comprehensive risk assessment can help leaders see the extent of well-being risks presented by the work environment. Using a validated, evidence-based tool such as the Copenhagen Psychosocial Inventory (COPSOQ) is the critical first step in understanding the extent to which the structure and nature of the workplace environment impacts well-being.

Carol Davis is the Nursing Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.