The Price of Workplace Incivility in the Navy

A female Navy captain was recently stripped of her command of the U.S.S. Cowpens following repeated complaints of “cruelty and maltreatment” of the 400-member crew on her ship (Thompson, 2010). She was found guilty of violating Article 93 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice “cruelty and maltreatment” and Article 133 “conduct unbecoming an officer” (Ewing, 2010).

The Navy inspector general’s (IG) report found that the captain “repeatedly verbally abused her crew and committed assault.” Those who knew the captain (i.e., those who worked under her) said that the IG report resulted because of the toxic work environment aboard the ship (Thompson, 2010).

The female captain “create[d] an environment of fear and hostility [and] frequently humiliate[d] and belittle[d] watch standers by screaming at them with profanities in front of the Combat Information Center and bridge-watch teams…” one crew member recounted (Thompson, 2010).

It was also reported that she ordered a “well-respected master chief to go in ‘time out’ —standing in the ship’s key control room doing nothing— ‘in front of other watch standers of all ranks.'” (Thompson, 2010).

She also told two fellow Navy officers, “You two are f______ unbelievable. I would fire you if I could, but I can’t.” Even though cursing does occur, “to have them repeatedly brandished like clubs against subordinates — especially in front of more junior crew members — is unusual” (Thompson, 2010).

“The evidence shows” that the female captain violated Navy regulations “by demeaning, humiliating, publicly belittling and verbally assaulting…subordinates while in command of Cowpens,” the report concluded. Her actions “exceeded the firm methods needed to succeed or even thrive” and her “harsh language and profanity were rarely followed with any instruction.” Her repeated criticism of her officers, often in front of lower-ranking crew members, humiliated subordinates and corroded morale, “contrary to the best interests of the ship and the Navy” (Thompson, 2010).

One gunnery officer, who served under her aboard the destroyer U.S.S. Winston S. Churchill from 2002 to 2004, said “She would throw coffee cups at officers — ceramic, not foam….spit in one officer’s face, throw binders and paperwork at people, slam doors” (Thompson, 2010).

A retired Navy commander (who served under her when she was second in command on the destroyer U.S.S. Curtis Wilbur in 1997-98) recalls, “When I think of [her], even 12 years later, I shake…She was so intimidating even to me, a 6-foot-4 guy” (Thompson, 2010).

Pearson & Porath (2009) found that targets of workplace incivility “struggle to concentrate when treated badly. They’ll lose focus trying to understand the incivility and how to respond…[T]he emotional impact…further distracts and short circuits their ability to be effective. Incivility doesn’t shock people into better focus. It robs concentration, hijacks task orientation, and impedes performance” (p. 155).

Similarly, a study by Miner, Glomb, & Hulin found negative interactions had a fivefold stronger effect on mood than positive interactions (Sutton, 2007, p. 31). Thus, it’s not surprising to conclude that…

“[N]asty people pack a lot more wallop than their more civilized counterparts” (Sutton, 2007, p. 31).

References

Ewing, P. (2010, January 16). Cruiser CO relieved for ‘cruelty’. Navy Times. Retrieved http://www.navytimes.com/news/2010/01/ap_cowpens_cofired_011310/

Pearson, C. & Porath, C. (2009). The cost of bad behavior: How incivility is damaging your business and what to do about it. New York, NY: Portfolio.

Sutton, R.I. (2007). The no asshole rule: Building a civilized workplace and surviving one that isn’t. New York: Business Plus.

Thompson, M. (2010, March 3). The rise and fall of a female Captain Bligh. TIME. Retrieved from http://www.time.com