Category Archives: Industrial & Organizational Psychology

People with a Situational Value System

rude-customers

“A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter, or to others, is not a nice person” (Barry, 1998, p. 185).

[NOTE: This post was updated January 2015]

Many years ago, while waiting for a show at a nice hotel in Dallas, my wife and I were standing in line to order some coffee. As we were in line waiting (we were second in line) at a busy one-person coffee stand, the woman waiting behind us (she was third in line) yelled out, “Can I go ahead and pay for this?” It didn’t matter to her that two other people (the first lady in line and us) were ahead of her in this ordering process.

I forgot what this was. It might have been a bottle of water or something small. But pretty much everyone else waiting patiently in line was ordering something small. After she interrupted and cut in line, she made some disparaging remarks about the single employee working there.

My wife and I both used to work as a waiter (me) and waitstaff trainer (wife) and thus we’re especially sensitive to and aware of how we and others treat waiters, waitresses, or anyone in a people service profession (e.g., hotel maids, bellmen, etc.). When I see behaviors like this woman’s, it brings me back to the time, more than 20 years ago, when I worked as a waiter for a restaurant in Austin, Texas.

I didn’t know it at first but was quickly informed by the other waitstaff that I was waiting on a baseball celebrity and his family. “Ok, not a big deal,” I thought. I’ll just make sure that I’m at my best and take care of them as I always do with all of my customers.

Because the family was busy visiting and chatting loudly, I stepped back to give them time to decide what they wanted to order. Not long afterwards, the wife snapped her fingers at me (like a rich person does when she beckons her servants). After the family ordered, she dismissed me, like “I’m done with you now leave my sight” type of attitude.

William H. Swanson, Chairman and Former CEO of Raytheon, cautioned:

“Watch out for people who have a situational value system, who can turn the charm on and off depending on the status of the person they are interacting with . . . Be especially wary of those who are rude to people perceived to be in subordinate roles.” [Cited in USA Today “CEOs say how you treat a waiter can predict a lot about character”]

I think this advice should be taken very seriously, especially by those in a supervisory or management role. In a USA Today article, Siki Giunta (CEO of Managed Objects, but who previously worked as a bartender) summed this up well when she said this type of situational behavior is a good predictor of a person’s character because it’s not something you can learn or unlearn easily but instead it shows how you were raised.

The woman who cut in line to place her order felt that she was special and deserved special treatment and gave herself permission to cut in front of others and then displayed contempt by mumbling unkind comments about the person preparing the coffee.

Takeaway: Whether it’s ordering coffee on a Saturday night or interacting with employees at work on a Monday morning, each of us—whether you’re a CEO, manager, or employee—needs to treat everyone, both in and outside the office (regardless of their status or title in the social or corporate ladder) with kindness, dignity, and respect.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

References

Barry, D. (1998). Dave Barry Turns 50. New York, NY: Ballantine Publishing Group.

Jones, D. (2006, April 17). CEOs say how you treat a waiter can predict a lot about character. USA Today. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/money/companies/management/2006-04-14-ceos-waiter-rule_x.htm

Workplace Incivility Hurts Employees & Businesses

Work stress
Work stress

Earlier this week, I talked about the Manic Society and the Hyperactive Workplace. For today’s post, we’ll shift gears and cover workplace incivility. This topic is a favorite of mine, so I’ll leave you with something to think about for the weekend. NOTE: The information for this post came from an assignment I completed for a class.

Workplace incivility is defined as “the exchange of seemingly inconsequential inconsiderate words and deeds that violate conventional norms of workplace conduct” (Pearson & Porath, 2009, p. 12).

“Workplace incivility is low-intensity deviant behavior with ambiguous intent to harm the target, in violation of workplace norms for mutual respect. Uncivil behaviors are characteristically rude and discourteous, displaying a lack of regard for others” (Pearson, Andersson, & Wegner, 2001, p. 1397). These are rude, insensitive or disrespectful behaviors in the workplace.

Examples include: ignoring or making derogatory remarks about someone, taking credit for the work of others, passing blame for your own mistakes, belittling the efforts of others, failing to return phone calls or respond to emails, setting others up to fail, leaving snippy voice mail messages, withholding information, leaving a mess for others to clean up, shutting someone out of a network or team, avoiding someone, throwing temper tantrums (Pearson & Porath, 2009).

Workplace incivility is so common that we often don’t even notice it. Pearson & Porath (2009) found in their studies that 1 in 5 people in their sample claimed to be targets of incivility from a coworker at least once a week. About 2/3 said they witnessed incivility happening among other employees at least once a month. 10% said they saw incivility among their coworkers every day.

A survey of public sector employees in the United States found that 71% of respondents reported at least some experience of workplace incivility during the previous 5 years, and 6% reported experiencing such behavior many times (Cortina, Magley, Williams, & Langhout, 2001).

What’s more, it’s not unique to the U.S. The researchers (Pearson & Porath, 2009) discovered that 50% of Canadians in their study also reported suffering from incivility directly from their coworkers at least once a week. 99% said they witnessed incivility at work and 25% reported seeing incivility occurring between coworkers daily.

When civility is disregarded in the workplace, the results are negative effects – not only on the target(s) of the incivility, but also the on effectiveness and efficiency of the teams and the overall organization (Andersson & Pearson, 1999; Pearson & Porath, 2009).

Researchers found that workplace incivility has an insidious effect, first negatively impacting the targets, and later with repercussions rippling like waves to other areas of the organization. The end result is an adverse effect on the health of the employee (Cortina, Magley, Williams, & Langhout, 2001) and the efficiency and productivity of the organization (Pearson, Andersson, & Wegner, 2001). What’s even more troubling for psychology and business is that workplace incivility harms not just the targets and the organizations but also those who are witnesses to these incivilities (e.g., customers).

References

Andersson, L., & Pearson, C. (1999). Tit for tat? The spiraling effect of incivility in the workplace. Academy of Management Review, 24(3), 452-471.

Cortina, L. M., Magley, V. J., Williams, J. H., & Langhout, R. D. (2001). Incivility in the workplace: Incidence and impact. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 6, 64–80.

Pearson, C., Andersson, L., & Wegner, J. (2001). When workers flout convention: A study of workplace incivility. Human Relations, 54(11), 1387-1419.

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.

What is Your Life’s Work?

[NOTE: This post was updated February 2018]

In his book, What is Your Life’s Work? Bill Jensen asks people to write a letter to a loved one about the meaning and importance of work. Specifically, he wanted them to think about this question:

“What is the single most important insight about work that you want to pass on to your kids? Or to anyone you truly care about?”

In the course of writing these letters, people experienced something remarkable — clarity about what “it” is that’s most important to them and the power of following their dreams.

“There are only 1440 minutes in every day. No do-overs. Time stolen from you at work means less time for whatever really matters to you…We must all be respectful of how work uses the precious time in people’s lives — as a guiding principle in whatever [we] do every day” (Jensen, 2005, p.9).

“I’m a workaholic. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t striving for full-throttle success. As it turns out, I failed in one critical area. I had turned my back on life.” (A Letter Writer quoted in Jensen’s book)

According to over 40 Gallup studies, about 75% of workers are disengaged from their jobs. And based on a recent U.S. Job Retention Survey, 75% of all employees are now searching for new employment opportunities. Jensen also found, in a New American Dream Survey, that more than four out of every five of us (83%) wish we had more of what really matters in life (Jensen, 2005, p.5).

In the past 20 years, Jensen has interviewed and surveyed over 400,000 people in more than 1,000 companies. What he found was that “[m]ost of us already know what really matters. We just let all the daily excuses and conflicting priorities cloud our judgment…Yet the people who are truly focused on what matters rarely have this problem. They know how to listen to themselves – how to quiet all the outside noise long enough to hear their own heartbeat and their own wisdom” (Jensen, 2005, p.16).

Jensen (2005) recommends several things:

  • Face what you fear
  • Get grounded, there are others like you
  • Let go, nobody’s watching
  • Suspend judgment, others’ “aha” moments can reveal a lot
  • Find your passion, write it down
  • Laugh at your own excuses
  • Rewrite the script, because you can

“[T]he most important quality in a candidate is passion for what he does and who he is. This passion will drive people to succeed even when obstacles occur in the workplace…For my money, give me someone with passion. We can teach him the rest.” (Mike Grabowski, quoted in What is Your Life’s Work?)

Wishing you good work life, health, and well-being.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

Reference

Jensen, B. (2005). What is Your Life’s Work?: Answer the BIG Question About What Really Matters…and Reawaken the Passion for What You Do. New York, NY: HarperCollins.