Taking the good with the bad: measuring civility and incivility.

Author:Kunkel, Danylle


Incivility in the workplace is more than bad manners or boorish behavior. It affects the bottom line of the business. Incivility is one of the factors causing stress in the workplace, and stress in the workplace costs U.S. businesses an estimated $300 billion per year (Porath and Pearson, 2012). Despite a growing body of evidence showing the impact of incivility in the workplace and its impact on morale and performance, current performance appraisal measurements typically do not measure incivil behavior. Performance management systems are designed to encourage, and thus to increase, specific behaviors which lead to completion of organizational objectives. It can be contended that these behaviors are actually behavioral norms directly embedded in the culture. The majority of organizations measure these behaviors through the use of performance appraisals. It has been noted that the ratings on performance appraisals are directly linked to both organizational reward systems and to the imposition of sanctions or acts of discipline, even to the point of failed promotion and dismissal. However, if incivil behavior is typically not measured, one must question the validity of an organization's performance appraisals.

The goal of this paper is to shed light on the types of behaviors that are being included in contemporary performance appraisals. We will examine the types of behavior, civil and incivil, being measured as part of performance management systems. The incivility construct has gained a great deal of traction. Given its high prevalence and the undesirable outcomes with which it is associated, organizations need to assess this behavior and address the problems presented by incivility. Researchers have attempted to expose the topic through outcomes, antecedents, construct parameters and distinction; however no research known to date has addressed the issue of sanctionability of incivility. This research does a review of extant performance appraisals to show that there are some concerns in the measurement of undesirable incivil behavior in organizations, as opposed to the inclusion of civil behaviors. A framework was developed upon which to analyze and review the various performance appraisals. It is the authors' belief that despite the clear organizational impact of incivil behaviors, many organizations do not include these as part of their performance appraisals. Ramifications of such an omission will be discussed, along with some exciting possibilities for future research.


There are clear benefits from managing individual performance and behavior to achieve organizational goals. Performance management processes focus on a more integrated approach to the management of employee behavior that is connected to performance that leads to organization success. Performance management can be defined as a strategic and integrated approach to delivering sustained success to organizations by improving the performance of the people who work in them and by developing the capabilities of teams and individual contributors (M. Armstrong, 2006, p. 142). The purpose of performance management can be viewed generally as a means of sustaining competitive advantage through the behavior of its people (Hartle, 1997; Weiss & Hartle, 1997). De Waal (2002) believes that the main purpose of a performance management system is to alter the behavior of people. Armstrong (2000), Brown and Armstrong (1999), Engelmann and Roesch (1997), and Newton (1998) all agree that the result of performance management is specific behavior improvement.

Performance management involves the development of processes for establishing a shared understanding of what is to be achieved in the organization, and more specifically which behaviors will increase the chances of goal accomplishment. Periodically evaluating the human resources within organizations allows individuals to have a formal assessment of their behavior and how it helps or impedes goal accomplishment. Performance management is focused on the individual and his/her behavior for performance. To that end, performance management systems through performance appraisals measure outputs such as performance versus objectives. Perhaps more importantly the performance appraisal provides an assessment of individual inputs such as knowledge, skills, and abilities, derived from an individual's displayed behavior.

Performance appraisal can be defined as the appraisal rating of individuals' work performance and their behaviors by management, covering a specific time period, applied to all employees or specific groups of employees whose participation is typically mandatory or alternatively motivated by access to extrinsic reward, and where results in the form of ratings are stored by the organization to be used for purposes that require differentiation of employees (Coens & Jenkins, 2002). Evaluation of employee behavior in the form of performance appraisals is directly tied to the Management By Objectives movement (MBO) (Drucker, 2007). While other types of management frameworks have taken favor over MBO, the process of appraising employee behavior became a familiar system within organizations today. Coens and Jenkins (2002) have shown that more than three out of four US businesses have implemented a formal performance appraisal system. These appraisal systems are designed to show what specific behavior is desired in the workplace from the employees. The idea that these systems stretch across jobs and levels within organizations allows us to assume that there are certain behaviors that are more acceptable and other behaviors that are not acceptable within the organization as a whole.

Performance appraisals have become such a fundamental part of life in organizations that consulting firms, HRIT solution organizations, and "best practices" are all available to leaders supporting the improvement of performance appraisal processes. It is clear that the performance appraisal is a very important to both practitioners and academicians. In one organization studied by Whitford and Coestee (2006) the authors found that when overall organizational performance was low, leadership of the company felt that a culture of better measures of behavior and feedback had to be put in place. The behavior desired within a performance management system and measured through a performance appraisal can become part of the culture and therefore institutionalized as expected behavior from employees.

The system of performance management itself should be aligned and linked with all aspects of human resource planning (staffing, talent management, succession planning, and leadership development). In addition, and most important to our study, is the idea that performance management, based on the measures of performance appraisals are directly connected to the reward and remuneration systems within an organization (Armstrong, 2000; Phelps, 2005; Spangenberg & Theron, 2001; Williams, 2002), as well as the development and discipline systems. Studies also show that managers make promotion decisions based on the results of their subordinate's performance appraisal to avoid legal repercussions and promote workplace equality (Castilla & Bernard, 2010; Greenhaus, Parasuraman & Wormley, 1990; Kleiman & Durham, 1981; Lyness & Heilman, 2006). For the purpose of this paper, not only should it be noted that performance appraisals are related to these kinds of decisions, but also factors such as friendliness have been studied for decades and found to have a greater impact on overall performance ratings, than task-related behavior (Beatty, 1973). This leads the authors to believe that performance appraisal behavior criterion that represent contextual and social behavior, such as friendliness, rather than task behavior, may be truly measuring the impact of civil or incivil behaviors in the workplace. If it is the case that performance appraisals do in fact include behavior characteristics representative of incivility, then it can be said that incivil behavior is, or should be, sanctionable.


The effects of task and contextual performance on the ratings of performance appraisals are well documented (Arvey & Murphy, 1998; Podsakoff, Whiting, Podsakoff, & Blume, 2009; Rotundo & Sackett, 2002). As defined by Motowidlo, Borman, and Schmit (2009), behavior is what employees do at work. With a more evaluative nature, performance is simply behavior that can be measured as positive or negative, that is helpful or a hindrance for individual and organizational effectiveness. It is clear that performance management systems and performance appraisals should focus on the element of behavior (Motowidlo, Borman, & Schmit, 2009). These authors suggest that behavior which can be measured as more or less organizationally desirable is possible to identify. They further contend that many behaviors can be lumped together, but that it is more helpful in terms of analyzing appropriate behaviors for the accomplishment of organizational objectives, to parcel out behaviors into more helpful categories. Following the work of Borman and Motowidlo (1993) the focus on behavior is task and contextual performance. Task performance is defined as "the effectiveness with which job incumbents perform activities that contribute to the organization's technical core" (Borman & Motowidlo, 1997, p.99). Contextual performance is defined as performance that is not formally required as part of the job, but that helps shape the social and psychological context of the organization (Borman & Motowidlo, 1993).

Task performance can be divided into two types. One consists of the behaviors necessary to transform raw materials into goods and services. The other suggests task behaviors are related to servicing and maintaining the organization's core functions. Contextual, however, does not focus the organization's process, but rather...

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