Examining Uncivil Behaviors within Dyads at Work

diverse employees at work

Workplace incivility is a major concern for organizations, as it can lead to reduced engagement and performance among employees and can end up costing organizations millions of dollars annually. Some workplace incivility occurs because certain people are more likely to behave uncivilly toward others, whereas other people seem to attract or perceive a larger share of mistreatment. However, incivility may also result from characteristics of the unique relationship between any pair of employees (also called dyads). These employee relationships were the subject of a recent study (Taylor et al., 2021) on workplace incivility. 


Participants in the study answered questions regarding how often they experienced incivility as well as instigated incivility towards each of their individual coworkers. Participants also completed measures of their perceived workplace norms regarding how often incivility occurs in their workplace and how accepted it is.  

The results show that experienced and instigated incivility within dyads are associated with each other, even after taking into account individual dyad members’ general tendencies to experience and instigate incivility. This means that certain dyads of employees tend to quarrel above and beyond the level we might expect based on the general tendencies of the individuals. This problem became more pronounced when employees perceived greater occurrence of incivility in the workplace, and even worse when employees perceived greater acceptance of incivility in the workplace. 


The authors of the study suggest several practical applications of these findings for organizations. For example, they suggest that managers would benefit from establishing strong norms against incivility by clearly stating organization-wide expectations of civil behavior. Additionally, the authors caution that previous recommendations to hire civil employees may be oversimplistic, as general tendencies toward civil or uncivil behaviors do not fully account for uncivil behaviors that occur among pairs of employees. 

The authors also suggest that specific pairs of employees who do not get along can be targeted for training on civil behavior, which is less expensive than training all employees. Finally, the authors suggest that managers could work to improve interpersonal relationships among employees. One way to do this is by encouraging employees to express appreciation or gratitude towards coworkers, as this has shown to decrease uncivil behavior.


Taylor, S. G., Locklear, L. R., Kluemper, D. H., & Lu, X. (2021). Beyond targets and instigators: Examining workplace incivility in dyads and the moderating role of perceived incivility norms. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication.