Bullying and incivility

Managers are responsible for creating and maintaining a positive and productive work culture. A manager’s area of responsibility includes any matter that involves or could impact the workplace, and this includes inappropriate behavior, such as bullying or incivility. Managers are also accountable for identifying and addressing issues in a timely and fair manner. This involves coaching and counseling their employees and, if appropriate in the circumstances, taking disciplinary action (see Discipline issues section).

Bullying in particular can be terribly harmful to a work group. Sometimes high performers get away with bullying even though the harm they cause outweighs their accomplishments. Bullying reduces engagement and productivity, increases absenteeism and turnover, and adds stress that damages health, so it’s crucial that you be aware if this behavior is occurring. Most bullies don’t act up in front of their superiors, so managers must rely on reports from other employees. Yelling, “temper tantrums” or ganging up on another employee should never be tolerated, and you must act to intervene in these cases as soon as you know of this behavior. Do not wait until the behavior results in a crisis. Consult with your HR Partner, and then confront the employee. When talking with him/her, be direct but not emotional – and be specific about the problem behavior (saying “you called someone an idiot” works better than “you’re being mean”). The employee may explain why s/he acted in that fashion, but remind the employee that this behavior must stop, regardless of the explanation. Your HR Partner can help you deal with underlying issues that may be motivating the problem behavior, and can help you determine when/if disciplinary action is necesssary.

Managers should evaluate how their own behaviors could contribute to a norm for incivility. Correcting subordinates by pounding one’s fist, swearing, or personally debasing them sets an uncivil tone. Similarly, interactions between managers that are discourteous, resulting in loss of face, negatively impact not only those directly involved, but also those who witness or hear about the incident.

Polite and courteous interaction should be the norm. Acts of interpersonal rudeness should be handled swiftly and justly, and those who instigate uncivil behavior must be held accountable, regardless of their hierarchical prestige or special talents. USC provides a number of stress release options to help employees release pent-up emotions in a healthy fashion, such as discounts at campus fitness centers, access to counseling with the Center for Work and Family Life, and mindfulness training.

The manager’s role includes:

  • Providing a good example by treating all with courtesy and respect
  • Promoting awareness of the USC policy and complaint procedures
  • Watching for inappropriate behavior at work and taking action before it escalates
  • Dealing sensitively with all employees involved in a complaint of inappropriate behavior
  • Explaining procedures to be followed if a complaint is made
  • Ensuring that an employee making a complaint is not victimized or retaliated against for doing so
  • Monitoring and following up after a complaint is made so as to prevent recurrence
  • Remembering that a manager is always setting an example, and being careful to demonstrate civility both in person and in email

Unprofessional behavior can be reported to the Office of Professionalism and Ethics.

Additional helps

Managing a Civil Workforce

Managing a Bully in the Workplace

Bullying in the Workplace

George Washington’s Rules