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America Behaves Badly: Civility Lacking as We Return From the Pandemic

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For more than a year the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to break all the old rules from government and public responses to medical treatment and vaccinations.

Now that vaccination rates are rising -- 56 percent of the U.S. with at least one dose and 48 percent fully vaccinated -- American’s are returning to public spaces, but it seems some have forgotten the “Golden Rule”.

You remember the “Golden Rule”? Treat others as you wish to be treated.

Incidents across the nation the last few months show Americans behaving badly with a lack of civility in public spaces.

“People have kind of gotten out of practice about how to behave in public, and how to behave in a polite, civil society,” Thomas Plante, University of Santa Clara psychology professor, told CNBC.

A Post-Pandemic Return to (Un)Civil Society

Americans, many who spent a portion of the last 16 months in near isolation, are returning to public spaces.

From airline travel to sporting events to restaurants to workplaces we are gathering again, and some of the results have not been pretty.

CNBC catalogued the following bad behavior:

  • Both Southwest and American airlines decided to suspend in-flight alcohol sales after a series of unruly passenger behavior.
  • NBA players were subjected to a series of incidents including water bottles thrown and popcorn dumped on them, and even fans spitting on players.
  • Walmart and Target had shoppers physically fighting in their aisles – over Pokémon and sports trading cards.

“We haven’t been in crowds; we haven’t negotiated spaces with a lot of other people for quite a while. I think we’re out of practice with how to be human with each other,” Calla Devlin Rongerude told CNBC.

High Stress Can Lead to Chaos

While there was no shortage of bad behavior prior to theCloseup portrait unhappy, angry, mad, annoyed, grumpy man giving thumbs down gesture, looking with negative facial expression disapproval isolated orange background. Human emotion hand sign, attitude pandemic, the current rise in uncivil actions can be attributed to stress surrounding the unprecedented times.

“We’ve got a tsunami of mental health issues out there, with anxiety and depression,” Plante told CNBC, adding that our collective stress levels have never been higher.

Stress factors that can turn frustration into public aggression, include:

  • COVID-19 pandemic including death and illness of family and friends.
  • Job loss or economic insecurity during the pandemic.
  • Handling kids, some who may still be learning from home or missing daycare.
  • Isolation and time spent away from others or crowds.

“Reentering public spaces can put many of us on edge. Filling public spaces with people again -- people who have weathered the last year in different ways -- may increase the likelihood of incidents of chaos,” Dr. Crystal Clark, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, told CNN.

Return to Civil Society: Start With Eye Contact

Some of us need to “relearn” basic behaviors that we have not practiced in a while, including something as simple as eye contact.

Generations brought up on “look them in the eye with a firm handshake” have already had to forego the handshake because of COVID-19 and now some may find eye contact awkward after a year of looking at co-workers via Zoom.

Jane Webber, an assistant professor of counselor education and doctoral program coordinator at Kean University in New Jersey, told CNN that eye contact is essential to start interactions with others as it establishes a connection and shows you care.

"Generally, just eye contact and a small smile I call the 'Mona Lisa smile' fills people on the other side with a really nice feeling. They will mirror what you do," Webber said.

Besides eye contact, people heading back to public spaces will have to navigate potential handshakes and hugs, being within six feet of others, and the sharing of objects, especially in the workplace.

Incivility is Bad for Business

Incivility in the workplace is bad for your employees, your customers, and your business.

“Workplace incivility creates a wide range of negative effects including lower employee engagement, reduced work effort, increased worry or anxiety, withdrawal, lower individual satisfaction, and reduced organizational commitment,” writes Audrey Murrell, professor and Director of the David Berg Center for Ethics and Leadership, in Forbes magazine. “Affected employees leave the organization and customers who witness incivility take their business elsewhere. The long-term impact of workplace incivility can create a toxic culture that is challenging to correct. It can also be financially costly in terms of time spent managing conflict at work and in accounting for increased employee turnover, expensive litigation, and the negative impact on the customers’ experience and the overall company reputation.”

Small business lawyer Dana Ball says civility in the workplace requires remembering that “Golden Rule”.

“Civility is treating others the way you would want to be treated. The act of showing politeness, courtesy, and respect reminds us of the Golden Rule we all learned in kindergarten. But civility is about more than just being polite. Civility means we are able to find common ground and respect for those with whom we associate in spite of our differences—a concept that is quickly being lost in the world,” writes Ball.

10 Steps to Take to Make Your Workplace Civil

So, how do we get back to being civil to each other at work?

The Harvard Business Review article “Make Civility the Norm on Your Team” is a good start. The article presented a Code of Civility from a law firm that included 10 steps:

  1. Greet and acknowledge each other.
  2. Say please and thank you.
  3. Treat each other equally and with respect, no matter the conditions.
  4. Acknowledge the impact of our behavior on others.
  5. Welcome feedback from each other.
  6. Be approachable.
  7. Be direct, sensitive, and honest.
  8. Acknowledge the contributions of others.
  9. Respect each other’s time commitments.
  10. Address incivility.

Employer Flexible knows your Texas-based business has a lot on its plate so reach out to us today to find out how our HR outsourcing services can free your management team to concentrate on bigger issues.