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Bad Behavior In The Office, Really?

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I can’t believe we have to talk about civility, respect, patience, tolerance, and choose whatever characteristic you want, today as adults.

Who’s allowing this to happen? 

I recently had the extraordinary opportunity to spend some time working with some very talented high school students on their final project for the school year. What a great place to watch where the behaviors of adults begin and manifest.

If you can be honest with yourself and reflect and observe your behavior, what do you see? In many of my posts, I talk about how you want to be seen when you show up. Ask yourself, “What do others see when I show up?” Or “What do others see in me?” If you’re a leader, or you’re thinking of becoming a leader, you need to answer these questions for yourself or have a trusted colleague share what they see with you. 

What’s happened to civility?

I am tired of reading about how we blame everything on COVID… what a great scapegoat this has become. I have to admit, I sometimes use it too as an excuse. I do use it as a point-in-time reference to when things started to go wrong. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen a plethora of positives that have come out of this total disruption in our lives and business and a plethora of bad. 

There is not a week that has gone by over the past two years when a leader has come to me and asked, what the hell has happened to civility in the office? It’s not just the office, it’s everywhere. Another side effect of Covid, yes I’m blaming Covid, is that has affected our ability to be patient, empathic, compassionate, civil as humans, and accountable for our behaviors.

Quiet quitting is a term being thrown around the office. Quiet quitting refers to individuals not doing tasks beyond one’s assigned responsibilities and or becoming less invested in work. Quiet quitters continue to perform their primary jobs, but:

  • They’re less willing to engage in activities like lending a hand to a coworker who is overloaded 
  • Not attending non-mandatory meetings
  • Not being accountable
  • Blaming things on other people
  • Not taking on a project outside of their assigned duties
  • Taking multiple breaks that continue to get longer and longer
  • They don’t add anything to team meetings 
  • They don’t hold themselves accountable, and the list goes on which sounds like a lot of just bad behavior.

This is not new bad behavior, this has been around for decades, and now for some reason, no one seems to be hiding it and actually is doing a great job of being passive-aggressive about it. Gallop, in their article, Is Quiet Quitting Real?, states that at least 50% of the U.S. workforce and probably more are engaged in this behavior. 

I have heard others say that this might be a way that people are dealing with burnout and not necessarily incivility. Interesting point and something to consider, ask your staff what they think.

What is Civility?

Christine Porath, a tenured professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, in her YouTube video, Why being respectful to your coworkers is good for business, does a brilliant job of explaining the effect of civility and incivility with coworkers and the effect on business.

I don’t need to go into detail about all of this, Dr. Porath does that in her video. Dr. Porath’s TED talk on civility was recorded before Covid so we can’t blame incivility on Covid. The question is, “What don’t I know?” What is causing us as humans to be rude, impatient, angry, belligerent, and an array of other ugly and inconsiderate behaviors? 

Are we using the effects of COVID on society as a free pass to be bad humans? To act like undisciplined children when we don’t get our way or what we want. We quit our jobs because we only get to do remote work four days a week instead of five days a week, working two full-time remote jobs without either employer knowing, we need the extra day so we can get our laundry done during breaks and the lawn mowed during lunch. Remote work five days a week means we don’t have to be around other uncivil people all day. Okay, I admit, I liked mowing my lawn during the week on my lunch break so I had more me time on the weekend. The reduction of gas consumption, travel time, traffic challenges going to and from work, and childcare, I get it. 

So, what’s our excuse for incivility?

Let’s blame our employers, bosses, and leaders for not being empathetic to our cause, really? I have seen businesses close their doors, lay off staff, and exercise cutbacks because businesses tried to pay incentives, bigger salaries, and better benefits to get people to work for them. Those companies who have survived those cost increases passed the additional costs off to who… the rest of us, been out to eat lately? 

So, because we can only do remote work for four days a week the company needs to give us a gas stipend for the one day we have to come in. We got a pay increase of 3% instead of the 15% we think we deserve, how dare they. If leadership wants us to come to the office then give us free lunches. Or how about providing free in-office daycare? And a myriad of other ‘give me, get me’ demands that aren’t being met, well that’s made us grumpy. 

Exercise | Deliberate practice

Time to conduct stay interviews. I have heard about stay interviews over the past couple of years. It is about leaders asking staff what could they do and offering to keep people from leaving.

Before I tried this with leaders I asked over 60 full-time independent contributors, and non-leaders in my organization in three separate group meetings, if I were their manager what could I offer them to stay with the company. What could I do within my ability to support them, so other than a raise, better benefits, free lunches, more telecommute time, and free childcare what could I offer them? 

I’m not sure if the answers were a surprise or not. In order to get your staff to talk, you do need to make sure you can provide a safe space for this type of dialogue. This is what I heard:

  • The number one answer: Respect, something Christine Porath talked about in her video.
  • Next, their opinions mattered, they wanted to be heard and taken seriously.
  • They wanted a space where they could talk about their concerns. During this exercise, they were surprised by the number of people experiencing the same feelings of anxiety and fear of what was happening to everyone around them because they had never talked about any of this as a group.
  • They wanted to be sure that they could take their regular breaks and their full lunchtime to help their well-being.
  • Since this conversation was during COVID and everyone was remote, they wanted to be able to spend some time (virtually) doing team building, they called it survival camp. 
  • They asked when they talked about their anxieties and challenges they just wanted leadership to listen, not necessarily fix things because of past promises not kept, and if there were things leaders could do something about, that was a bonus.

There were many similar responses, these were the major ones. I asked each group at the end of the dialogue if they could pick one behavior that could be a group behavior, something specific, observable, and repeatable that we could do as a team. All three groups agreed to a form of this: 

We want to feel supported as valuable members of the team. 

The next question you ask the group is for them to define what ‘feeling supported’ means to them, you want to make sure you have a clear understanding of what that entails. Then pick two to four of the top responses/behaviors that you and the team can practice together to support the feeling of being a valuable member of the team.   

I suggested to leadership that they do stay interviews and ask the same questions that I did to start with. What we found was the answers from multiple leaders who did these were pretty much the same as what I heard. There was a general consensus around the behavior of support and respect. Other leaders heard other things based on what each team was experiencing. For the most part, it came down to support and respect.

Now the work began. Leaders needed to look for crucial moments or opportunities to practice support and respect every chance they got. For some teams this worked, for other teams, it didn’t because there was an issue where the leader couldn’t support and maintain a safe space and their own incivility was who they had become. 

What we learned

We still lost people because of varying reasons beyond our control. We were able to keep others because their leaders understood that a title is not always about the process of leadership, it’s about the leader’s ability to influence and support others to do and be their best.

Leaders opened up to their teams during these meetings and shared their concerns, anxieties, and fears on top of carrying the fears of the team. This helped teams to understand the pressure the leaders were under and realize everyone was in this together. This helped to build trust because of the leader’s transparency and being vulnerable as a person. 

If you don’t think civility is important, think again. If you allow for an environment where people feel threatened, unimportant, or expendable they will grumble, they definitely won’t take pride in what they do, and most likely leave. 

Talk to your people, and let them know they are important to you and the organization. If you ask them what they think, be ready to hear what they say. An effective leader will encourage open and honest dialogue in a safe space and look to make personal improvements if needed. 

Deliberate practice is not something we do once in a while. If you want your staff to take you seriously do it all the time. Make it part of your daily leadership work. If you don’t want to be bothered with any of this, do your organization a favor and step down.

To the rest of us, I’m not suggesting that we bow down to the man or the machine, maybe, we need to deliberately practice some civility and gratitude ourselves for what the organization is trying to do or at least to the people we work with. There is always some place worse than where we currently work and those people are looking for your job. 

Don’t wait for tomorrow, tomorrow never comes. What you have is today and this is the best time to begin anything.

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The Rational Leader – Exercise | Deliberate practice

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The Exercises: