Interpersonal conflict and uncivil behaviour, such as bullying and harassment, are remarkably common in the workplace. The persistence of such serious incidents highlights that ‘workplace incivility’ is a major HR issue.

Incivility at work has negative consequences for employees, teams and organisations. It negatively impacts the attitudes, behaviour and health of staff, notably leading to higher levels of anxiety and depression, reduced self-esteem and performance, and increased absenteeism and turnover. It is vital that employers are equipped to understand where such behaviour stems from and how to prevent it.

This evidence review investigates the key drivers of bullying and incivility, to help employers shut it down at its root and maintain healthy relationships among staff. It also considers what interventions are the most promising solutions for preventing or reducing incivility.

  • See the practice summary for the main insights and practical recommendations for action. 
  • See the scientific summary for our methodology and technical information on the research and study references.

Bullying and incivility at work: An evidence review | Practice summary

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Bullying and incivility at work: An evidence review | Scientific summary

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Key recommendations

Managers and HR professionals can reduce bullying and workplace incivility by focusing on employees and their working lives in several key ways:

  • Be aware of the stressors faced by your staff. Those who are overloaded in their role are likely to experience more negative emotions, and subsequently display aggression and bullying.
  • Prioritise designing jobs in ways that ensure staff are clear about which actions to take to fulfil their role, and that the demands of their job are not so great that they cannot meet expectations.
  • Ensure staff feel a level of self-management and control over their working life by providing them with autonomy to decide how, when and where they work.
  • Think about who in your workplace is reporting unprofessional and abusive behaviour at work. For example, if it is mostly female employees who are raising issues, steps need to be taken to consider if there are inequality issues to address, and what can be done to prevent inappropriate attitudes or poor conduct at work.
Leaders, and HR professionals involved in selecting and developing them, play a major role in reducing bullying and workplace incivility. In particular, they should look to:
  • Prioritise values and attitudes when recruiting or promoting people managers. Especially look for constructive and ethical behaviour.
  • Understand the stressors of your managers and highlight the importance of healthy, fair relationships throughout the organisation to lessen the risk of them feeling overworked in their role.

Organisation-wide factors, such as shared expectations and agreed social norms, are an important influence on the likelihood of bullying and workplace incivility. To mitigate this impact organisations should aim to:

  • Develop understanding of the components and dynamics of fairness. Insights into this area come from psychology and other research insights, but also from collecting organisational data and personal accounts from your workforce.
  • Build a relevant, contextualised approach to how colleagues throughout the organisation should be treated fairly and communicate these insights widely.

Interventions aimed at reducing incivility are less thoroughly explored than influences, so we recommend prioritising prevention over cure, focusing on the root cause of incivility at work. Nonetheless, employers should focus on what makes interventions effective. Notably, employers should:

  • Ensure staff feel confident and prepared to approach workplace incivility should it occur by providing them with the capability and resources needed to do so.
  • Involve employees in the design and implementation to help make interventions effective.
  • Keep interventions wide-ranging, so that they target both individual development and organisational processes.

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