Who do you want to be when you show up for work?

Written by Kate Haley

The latest Human Rights Commission research exposes New Zealand’s sobering statistics on bullying and harassment in our places of work and learning.  Bullying has a significant impact on those both directly and indirectly involved, and the complaints made often represent the tip of the iceberg, with only 24% of workers affected raising a formal complaint.  A power imbalance is often an element in this dynamic with 83% of workers reporting the perpetrator to be a manager, supervisor, partner, director (53%) or a more senior co-worker (30%). 

Worksafe New Zealand defines bullying as: “Repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that can lead to physical or psychological harm,” and it is the threshold by which both management and peers are held.  This is a threshold that few employees think they will ever meet.

Fair Way specialises in workplace investigations, many of which are allegations of workplace bullying.  Whilst not every allegation is substantiated, it is often evident to the investigator that either a level of incivility has fed into the complaint, or a poorly managed employment process has increased the level of incivility that people are experiencing.  

Incivility in the workplace

Christine Porath’s research on the effects of incivility in the workplace parallels the Human Rights Commission findings; it negatively impacts workplace performance, employee turnover, customer experience, and collaboration.

Workplace incivility is rampant and on the rise.  The accumulation of thoughtless actions that leave employees feeling disrespected – intentionally ignored, undermined by colleagues, or publicly belittled by an insensitive manager – can create lasting damage that should worry an organisation.”

Workplace incivility has a direct influence on both tangible and intangible measurements and affects an organisation’s bottom line, the magnitude of the cost and disruption [i] is directly linked to the degree of incivility.  Porath’s research provides granularity about the behaviours that cause damage and erode our professional relationships, and it also provides us with a solution. It invites us to reconsider how we show up for each other in the workplace. You can complete this online self-assessment to find out your strengths and the areas where you can focus on: Christine Porath | Personal Workplace Civility Assessment.

If we lean into Porath’s work we come away with insights into what leads to incivility, and the sense of being bullied, and crucially an understanding that: “Incivility usually arises not from malice but from ignorance.”[ii] The behaviour in question often reflects a lack of self-awareness - we don’t intend to hurt others, but we do. 

The impact on leadership

In our increasing cultural, neural and gender diverse workplaces, we need to raise our awareness of the impact of our behaviour and consider the consequences before we speak and act.  By keeping in mind that incivility is in the eyes of the recipient, we understand that what matters is not whether people were disrespected, but whether they felt disrespected[iii]. 

Understanding that a matter of perception may mean that one person’s incivility is another person’s bullying, encourages us to check in with each other, to make sure that the message that we intended to communicate is what was received.  A performance management conversation is a common cause of miscommunication, the difference in power can add to the employee misinterpreting intent.  Taking the time to prepare for the conversation, lead with empathy, be present, listen actively to both verbal and nonverbal communication, reframe and ask great questions, are key skills that can prevent an already difficult conversation from leaving your employee feeling bullied. 

Porath’s research confirms that leaders who: “Show kindness, consideration, and respect can have a potent effect, creating a positive dynamic of civility that others will respond to and build on.”[iv]  Challenge yourself to give more, share resources, recognition, gratitude, and purpose, and make every moment of interaction in your workplace count.  It’s ok to be tough-minded on standards, but also being tender-hearted on people is an aspirational way to show up for work[v].

About Fair Way

Having a coaching service that sits alongside and complements investigations, provides a powerful tool for addressing incivility in the workplace. Fair Way provides a range of conflict management solutions. Our Kapehu service provides a safe space to be vulnerable, have an open conversation, and sense check your perceptions.

If you would like to find out more about Fair Way’s workplace services, please get in touch via workplace@fairwayresolution.com or call 0800 77 44 08.


[i] The hidden toll of workplace incivility, 2016, https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/the-hidden-toll-of-workplace-incivility

[ii] Mastering Civility, A Manifesto for the Workplace; Christine Porath, 2016, p12

[iii] Mastering Civility, A Manifesto for the Workplace; Christine Porath, 2016, p10

[iv] Mastering Civility, A Manifesto for the Workplace; Christine Porath, 2016, p4

[v] Mastering Civility, A Manifesto for the Workplace; Christine Porath, 2016, p96


About the Author

As an experienced Resolution Practitioner within the Commercial Services team at Fair Way, Kate works across sectors, specialising in workplace and education disputes. She practices as a facilitator, mediator, and investigator, and also provides training in conflict management to organisations.

If you would like to get in touch with Kate, you can contact her by emailing workplace@fairwayresolution.com