Bottom line in business: be nice

USC (US)—Politeness and profits may go hand in hand. A new book by two business professors suggests that simply being nice can save a company millions of dollars.

Job stress in the United States accounts for $300 billion in losses, reports Christine Porath, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. Further, an uncivil workplace reduces productivity as workers spend time looking for other jobs or helping others do so.

Porath and Christine Pearson, professor of management, say that 80 percent of employees who were victims of insults or bullying in the workplace lost valuable work time worrying about the incident and 78 percent said commitment to the organization declined. The findings are reported in their new book, The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It.

“People literally did not perform as well, weren’t as creative, and become more dysfunctional and aggressive” when someone was rude to them, Porath says. But the impact of rudeness didn’t end there.

The authors discovered that even witnessing an incident in which someone was bullied had a negative effect. And if a customer witnessed incivility, 50 percent of the time, that customer did not repatronize the business.

Porath and Pearson point to Cisco Systems as a company that others should try to emulate.

Cisco leadership has in place a global workplace civility program and this year was ranked sixth out of 100 best companies to work for by Fortune magazine. Cisco’s voluntary turnover rate is only 4 percent, which helps their bottom line, Porath says, because the cost of replacing employees can be as high as four times their annual salaries.

Civility in the workplace “starts at the top,” Porath says. Companies should set zero tolerance expectations, establish norms for all employees—including managers and executives—to live by, and should weed out trouble early in the hiring process.

Even with a national unemployment rate of 9.5 percent, Porath argues, there’s a “huge concern with HR execs that there’s a shortage of talent. Businesses are fighting for talent. If you’re a good performer, you’ll be in demand. Focus on your performance and put yourself out there. Don’t just hunker down and take it. Think about other possibilities.”

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