Workplace Incivility in Schools

Workplace Incivility in Schools

Thomas G. Reio, Stephanie M. Reio
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-068-2.ch006
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The purpose of this study was to investigate the prevalence of coworker and supervisor incivility in the context of K-12 schools and incivility’s possible link to teachers’ commitment to the school and turnover intent. The data were collected via survey from 94 middle school teachers in the US. Results indicated that 85% of the teachers experienced coworker incivility over the past year; 71% experienced supervisor incivility. MANOVA results suggested no statistically significant differences in incivility by gender or ethnicity. Hierarchical regression results suggested that supervisor incivility was associated negatively with commitment and positively associated with turnover intent. Coworker incivility was not a significant predictor in the regression equations. Macro- and micro-level human resource strategies were offered as possible tools to lessen the likelihood of uncivil behavior.
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Workplace incivility is a growing challenge for all types of organizations (Porath & Pearson, 2010). In recognition of this mounting problem, researchers have investigated its prevalence in a broad range of organizational contexts, yet surprisingly little in K-12 schools. The lack of scholarly inquiry in this area is troubling considering the almost overwhelming difficulties facing the teaching profession (Fox & Stallworth, 2010). For example, in our current lean economic times, schools are receiving less financial support, yet calls for accountability remain (Fox & Stallworth, 2010). Teachers continue to be under mounting pressure from a variety of sources to increase student learning performance (e.g., through federal and state legislative mandates, demanding parents, society in general), with little obvious relief in sight (Steffgen & Ewen, 2007). Educational policy makers and superintendents, and in-school instructional and administrative (e.g., principal) leaders need to be aware that these stressful contingencies contribute to a school workplace context that may be less than ideal to work, setting the stage for increasing the likelihood of teachers’ uncivil behaviors (Waggoner, 2003).

Andersson and Pearson (1999) define workplace incivility as “low intensity deviant behavior with ambiguous intent to harm the target, in violation of workplace norms for mutual respect. Uncivil behaviors are characteristically rude, discourteous, displaying a lack of respect for others” (p. 457). Incivility is not necessarily objective, as it is a reflection of an individual’s interpretation about how an action made them feel; in other words, it is defined in the eyes of the beholder (Porath & Pearson, 2010). Scholars have cited several antecedents to uncivil behavior such as lack of establishing positive relationships in the organization (i.e., not learning to fit in with coworkers), negative affect (e.g., anxiety, frustration, anger), and demographic dissimilarity (e.g., age, gender) as some of the likely predictors of uncivil behavior in the workplace (Baron & Neuman, 1996; Chen & Eastman, 1997; Pearson, Andersson, & Porath, 2000). Numerous labels have been assigned to uncivil behaviors such as condescending, sarcastic, inconsiderate, rude, and insulting, among others (Andersson & Pearson, 1999). Increases in workplace incivility have also been associated with organizational outcomes like reduced organizational commitment and job satisfaction, and increased turnover intentions (Laschinger, Leiter, Day, & Gilin, 2009). Workplace incivility can dampen employee productivity and become an economic drain (Porath & Pearson, 2010), and even ruin an organization’s reputation (Fox & Stallworth, 2010; Hutton & Gates, 2008). Because few studies have examined workplace incivility and its possible association with organizational outcomes in the context of a K-12 school, the aim of this research was to investigate the frequency of uncivil behavior among teachers and the influence of workplace incivility on teachers’ commitment to the school and turnover intentions. Educational leaders could use new information generated by this research to find ways to reduce the likelihood of uncivil behavior, increase teacher commitment, and decrease turnover intent among teachers at our schools.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Aggression: Any act where an individual attempts to intentionally harm another, either psychologically or physically. In the school workplace, aggression would refer to individual attempts to intentionally harm those with whom they work or have worked. Examples of psychological aggression would include a principal berating a teacher to make him or her look better or intentionally withholding information to make a supervisee look bad in front of one’s peers.

Physical Violence: Any act where an individual attempts to harm another through physical means. Thus, physical violence is a more severe form of aggression. In the workplace, examples of physical violence include shoving, slapping, kicking, and tripping a coworker, supervisor, or client.

Incivility: Low intensity, disrespectful, rude behavior with ambiguous intent to harm. It is similar conceptually to bullying, but in general it is of less frequency and intensity, and the conscious intent is not to harm. In the context of school, ignoring a fellow teacher, paying little attention to a coworker’s opinion, and cursing a supervisee constitute examples of incivility. Engaging in such activities repeatedly over a period would then be examples of bullying.

Cyber Incivility: Communicative behaviors in a computer-mediated environment where interactions may or may not intentionally violate norms of mutual respect. In schools, writing hurtful emails, ignoring a request made through email, and putting a supervisee down via email are all examples of such uncivil behavior.

Bullying: A consistent pattern of behavior aimed either consciously or unconsciously at an individual to cause shame, offense, or distress. Bullying does not include physical violence. In the school workplace, examples of bullying might be teasing and spreading gossip nonstop about a coworker or supervisee. Bullying overlaps conceptually with incivility, but it is the more consistent pattern of behavior of the two.

Organizational Commitment: The relative strength of an individual’s identification with and involvement in the organization where one is employed. Organizational commitment in this study, then, refers to the degree to which teachers identify with and are involved in the school where they currently work. Thus, the organization in this case is the school.

Turnover Intent: Refers to an individual’s intent to depart and no longer labor at their current work location. A teacher’s turnover intent is a measure of the degree to which he or she anticipates no longer working at the school.

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