Civility in the workplace reduces operational risks

ONCE UPON A TIME; Part 3…the relevance of history in risk management
Alberta Quarcoopome

I am sure most of you will believe that despite the opportunities being taken in these times of adversity caused by the COVID 19 pandemic, it has been one of the most challenging years in our lifetime.

The scale of human lives loss is so catastrophic that it is likened to a natural disaster. For employees in the financial sector, the changes involved is in remote working, loss of customers’ businesses, stress from the fear of catching the virus, which has brought some level of strain even among staff.

The term social or physical distancing even depicts that one has to build defensive walls around one’s self. However, these should not mar the need for good relationships and civility in our workplaces.

The following quote from “Corporate Training Materials” under the section on “Civility in the Workplace” hit me hard the first time I read it in 2015: “…Rudeness is an epidemic costing industry millions a year. Indeed, what society seems to be gaining in terms of both knowledge and technological advancement, it’s losing out on basic social values that directly impact the bottom line.  Bosses freely intrude on subordinates’ personal space, gossiping co-workers are norm, and quality customer care has been forgotten. The result: an environment not conducive to getting work done, dissatisfied clients aiming for the competition, and in some cases, blatant tolerance for abuse and harassment.”

What is a good working relationship?

Human beings are naturally social creatures. And when you consider that we seem to spend one-third of our lives at work, it’s clear that good relationships with colleagues will make our jobs more enjoyable. Have you noticed that when co-workers are comfortable around one other, they become more confident in voicing opinions, brainstorming, and going along with new ideas. This level of teamwork is essential to embrace change, create, and innovate. When people see the successes of working together in this way, group morale and productivity soars. How then does civility comes in here?

Uncivil behaviour

Civility represents the social norms and rules that must be followed in order to positively and productively relate with others. When people hear the word “civility,” words that come to mind include respect, courtesy, tolerance, consideration, and a rational approach to conflicts. Behaviours that threaten positive and productive relations with other people, therefore, constitute uncivil behaviours.

Examples of uncivil behaviour

Let us look at a few examples of uncivil behaviour:

  • Failing to acknowledge another person’s presence: Can you imagine the feeling when you are ignored? For example, a co-worker passing by without greetings and well-wishes, or even a nod?
  • Using abusive language: Being verbally abusive or using crude language
  • Bullying and intimidating other staff: Threatening violence against co-workers who would report irregularities to management
  • Cliques: Using the power of cliques in order to ostracize certain staff.
  • Gossiping: Instigating and spreading rumours against another person, regardless of whether the “news” seems accurate or relevant to the accomplishment of the task at hand.
  • Not valuing the contribution of others in the team: Some employees deliberately downplay others and intentionally fail to acknowledge others’ work contribution. During team huddles, some managers show obvious discrimination against a particular co-worker especially if the person is assertive.
  • Unhealthy competition among colleagues: Deliberately mis-informing or withholding vital information from other co-workers who are regarded as competition, in order to win awards.
  • Discriminating against a particular individual or group: Attacking an individual based on intrinsic characteristics such as race, gender, age, mental ability, and physical appearance.
  • Practicing insensitivity against co-workers’ needs: Inability to pay attention to the feelings and needs of others e.g. not giving a grieving co-worker time off before demanding workplace attendance. Insensitivity may also come in the form of engaging in activities distracting to co-workers, e.g. taking a cell phone calls while in the middle of a meeting without asking to be excused.
  • Practicing poor etiquette in dealing with correspondence: Ignoring phone calls and emails, using company email to send private messages, and discussing individuals in mailing lists as if they are not there.

Why must one be civil?

The case against the stronger forms of uncivil behaviors, such as bullying and racial discrimination, is easy to build. After all, violence in the workplace can get an employee fired, if not arrested and sent to prison.

But how about the softer, yet no less important, acts of civility? Are there compelling reasons to give one’s boss a warm “hello” every morning?

Consider the following three reasons why you should practice civil behavior:

  1. No one is indispensable: No man is an island. You may be a self-starter and a person who takes pride in being able to work with minimal supervision. You may be blessed with innate talent that makes you think you are indispensable in an organization. You still need the trust of your team-mates in order to execute an idea. Moreover, the positive regard of those who work with you will do a whole lot for your self-esteem. Unless you learn how to play nice, you’ll never be able to make it very far. One’s survival in the modern world, a world where everyone is linked together (probably more so than in the past few decades), depends on civility!
  1. There are many benefits to practicing civil behavior. Civility helps create a positive working environment. Motivation theories support that happy and relaxed workers are productive workers — and willing to go the extra mile for their company. On the other hand, disrespect and inconsideration at work is highly stressful, and can contribute to workers’ low morale. Have you noticed that absenteeism and low employee retention is common in companies where incivility is the norm? I have encountered people who had to resign from their jobs even when they had not secured new ones!

When civility is deliberately practiced in the workplace, people grow up matured in human relationship management. Civility teaches emotional intelligence — a person learns to control anger and frustration until an appropriate time comes to express them, he or she understands that there may be more important things at stake than a petty argument during a boardroom meeting; he or she reaches goals set for self and others. Managing uncivil behavior also teaches social skills such as conflict management and negotiation, skills which can be applied across many areas of life. 

How Uncivility Increases Risk in the workplace

What is your take on these observations in some workplaces?

  • A branch manager is not on a good working relationship with the operations manager. There is no coordination between them. Some urgent transactions are intentionally delayed at the back office. International trade transfers for some SMEs are incurring forex losses due to the delays not followed up.
  • A branch manager who is seventy percent of the business hours outside the office, leaves unceremoniously without informing the operations manager about his or her whereabouts. There is a surprise visit from the CEO. Since they are not on talking terms, the operations manager decided to bad-mouth the manager to the CEO. The relationship manager hears about this and reports to the manager upon his return!
  • Syndicates, divide and rule tactics and unprofessional leadership styles can cause dissent, bickering among staff, lack of cooperation and increase in mistakes, errors, internal fraud or deliberate oversight control lapses.

A good team should remain civil to each other and good leadership by example takes a company higher. Civility is recommended because it’s the right thing to do. Most of the world’s accepted religion, philosophies, and belief systems advocate consideration for one’s fellow man — indeed, isn’t the golden rule “do unto others what you’d like others to do unto you”? To quote Richard Boyd, associate professor of government in Georgetown University, “To fail to be civil to someone — to treat them harshly, rudely or condescendingly — is not only to be guilty of bad manners. It also, and more ominously, signals a disdain or contempt for them as moral beings.”

Enjoy your workplace.


Alberta Quarcoopome is a Fellow of the Institute of Bankers, and CEO of ALKAN Business Consult Ltd. She is the Author of two books: “The 21st Century Bank Teller: A Strategic Partner” and “My Front Desk Experience: A Young Banker’s Story”. She uses her experience and practical case studies, training young bankers in operational risk management, sales, customer service, banking operations ethics and fraud.


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