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Workplace Incivility: A Literature Review


Workplace incivility encompasses the low force acts, disregarding the norms of good and respectful conduct that have been set in a particular work environment and whose purpose of hurting is uncertain (Andersson & Pearson, 1999). In work settings, incivility involves acts that may seem negligible but display disrespect. Such acts rudeness, discourteousness, and displaying disregard for others. Workplace incivility concerns have been on the rise, perpetuated by several factors. In line with this, individuals have undergone different experiences, thereby necessitating the need for comprehensive research to unearth the problems and offer genuine solutions. This review explores four key papers selected from various studies exploring the rise in work incivility and its effects on individuals. Additionally, the sources explored herein present some of the factors contributing to the rise in workplace incivility. In this literature review, sources have been explored and critically analyzed, presenting the individual source findings to shed some light on the menace.


Several studies have been conducted to establish the range of actions considered uncivil within the workspace. However, it has not been easy since work incivility is phenomenal and relative. This means that the actions depend on an individual’s perception and the personal view of the actions meted on them (Schilpzand et al., 2014). Being impolite, discriminative, being sarcastic, ignoring or excluding someone from activities, making jokes at a colleague’s expense, and unapologetic interruption of co-workers are some of the things considered to be uncivil within the workspace. The multiple interpretations of such activities bring about ambiguity when addressing incivility issues.

First, societal dynamics have led to the rise in selective incivility. The selectivity is attributed to the rise in intercontinental migrations and the rise in the number of women and LGBT employees. Working women have been constantly targeted through selective incivility (Cortina et al., 2013). This class of individuals has constantly been mistreated within the work environments due to their small numbers. The discrimination is even worse in situations whereby they are of a different race, a phenomenon that has affected even the male counterparts, with the people of color attracting much hate. Additionally, the LGBT community has constantly faced incivility due to their sexual orientation. This stands out as one of the modern and most cruel incivility experiences in modern workplaces (Di Marco et al., 2015).

The literature sources explored in this work display a unique research methodology, presenting results with a concrete statistical backup. Cortina et al. (2013), in their research work on selective incivility, conducted onsite survey-based research, bringing onboard employees from various departments, gender, age, and race. The paper indulges in a deep statistical and regression analysis to establish the correlation between race, age, and gender to the increasing levels of selective incivility. With a p-value less than 0.005, the end results establish that the people of color, women, and those with slightly higher age experience more incivility within the workspace. Other researchers display an almost similar research and data analysis vigor. Harold and Holtz (2014) leverage the snowball sampling technique to assess the correlation between leadership and workplace antisocial behaviors. On the other hand, Di Marco et al. (2015) leveraged the technology to be able to draw insight into the increased workplace incivility, precisely based on sexual prejudice. The source draws an insight from the collected data using the Atlas.ti 6.2 software and template analysis. The generated results point out that the LGBT community faces a lot of incivility within the work environment, including verbally expressed incivilities.

Even though other sources rely on proven statistical methods to arrive at conclusions, Cortina et al. (2021) solely relied on the theory of behavioral response. This research paper is more focused on the workers’ response to the various incivilities rather than the causes. In essence, the article demonstrates the psychological impact of the incivilities, showing how the impacts can lead to potential health injuries. Having positive social connections can help downregulate the mental breakdown and help the affected workers heal and move on (Porath & Pearson, 2012). Diving into the triviality of the various incivilities is a great step into building a healthy working environment. Having a proper understanding of the mental effects is thus a good move into making the future of the workspace better and accommodative.

Notably, workplace incivility has a considerable effect on the mental health of the individuals involved. Additionally, uncivilized actions tend to be meted on the minority groups within the organizations. These groups consist of women, people of color, and those who identify with the LGBT community. It is worth noting that all the sources explored herein acknowledge these facts and have tried to address them in the best way possible, shedding light on what is to be done to remedy the situation. Organizations should facilitate the formation of social networks, paying close attention to the minority groups that have been affected previously to help downregulate the effects of the incivilities and provide a healing environment (Cortina et al., 2021, p. 21). Additionally, team-building activities should be encouraged to bolster the healing process and encourage integration.

Even though the perpetrators have been put to the limelight for purposes of eradicating the incivilities, the role of co-workers who most times play the witness role has been greatly downplayed. Most of the sources have overlooked this, leaving Di Marco et al. (2015) as the only researchers who have dared consider this particular viewpoint. Although such individuals may not have taken part in inflicting the mental pain to the affected, their silence plays a big role in enabling the humiliation. This goes hand in hand with the silence and dormancy of the organization leaders and their inability to enforce rules that would deter such occurrences. Such situations may spark retaliatory thoughts among the afflicted parties. This, therefore, calls for a collective responsibility to fully put the menace under control.

The various literature and research pieces have inclined towards addressing the victims of workplace incivility. However, the perpetrators have not been analyzed to determine the possible motives behind their actions. This places the various papers so far published and used in this paper as biased and inconsiderate to a particular level. To be able to address the issue conclusively, the motive and the root cause of the incivilities must be established before a conclusive solution can be achieved. Therefore, research should be conducted to unearth the root cause and address it in the best way possible.


Analyzing a variety of scholarly works is by far the best way of deriving deep insight into any given topic. Additionally, the exercise unearths unexplored paths, presenting possible research areas within the domain of study. This review has shed a great deal of light on the various types of incivilities being experienced in the work environment, analyzing the responses and possible solutions at a great depth. In the process, thematic as well as statistical data analysis techniques and procedures have been unearthed, adding to the wealth of knowledge so far achieved.


Andersson, L. M., & Pearson, C. M. (1999). Tit for tat? The spiraling effect of inciviliity in the workplace. Academy of Management Review, 24, 452-471.

Cortina, L. M., Hershcovis, M. S., & Clancy, K. B. H. (2021). The embodiment of insult: A theory of biobehavioral response to workplace incivility. Journal of Management, 1–26.

Cortina, L. M., Kabat-Farr, D., Leskinen, E. A., Huerta, M., & Magley, V. J. (2013). Selective Incivility as Modern Discrimination in Organizations: Evidence and Impact. Journal of Management39(6), 1579–1605.

Di Marco, D., Hoel, H., Arenas, A., & Munduate, L. (2015). Workplace incivility as modern sexual prejudice. Journal of Interpersonal Violence33(12), 1978–2004.

Harold, C. M., & Holtz, B. C. (2014). The effects of passive leadership on workplace incivility. Journal of Organizational Behavior36(1), 16–38.

Porath, C. L., & Pearson, C. M. (2010). The cost of bad behavior. Organizational Dynamics, 39, 64-71.

Porath, C. L., & Pearson, C. M. (2012). Emotional and behavioral responses to workplace incivility and the impact of hierarchical status. Journal of Applied Social Psychology42(1), 326–357.

Schilpzand, P., De Pater, I. E., & Erez, A. (2014). Workplace incivility: A review of the literature and agenda for future research. Journal of Organizational Behavior37, 57–88.


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