In an era of increased competition and economic pressure, some workplaces can seem like a battlefield. Many workers may have observed a colleague being chastised or denigrated by a supervisor, and for some, the attack has been personal.
Provocative new research suggests our subsequent feelings and actions vary by gender and are different depending on whether the coworker is male or female.
Investigators from Texas A&M and Buena Vista University discovered workers who witness incivility towards colleagues feel negative emotions – especially when the incivility is aimed at workers of the same sex.
The study, by Kathi Miner, Ph.D., and Angela Eischeid, analyzes the relationship between employees’ observations of incivility towards same-gender co-workers and negative emotions.
Experts say that workplace incivility or rudeness is commonplace and violates conventional workplace norms for mutual respect. The behavior also displays a lack of regard for others. Although our first thoughts are likely to be for the victim of this “abuse,” it can also affect our own feelings as observers.
In the study, a total of 453 restaurant employees responded to an online survey examining the “quality of life in the restaurant industry.” Investigators examined how observed workplace incivility towards female and male co-workers relates to four negative emotions — anger, demoralization, fear and anxiety — for both female and male observers.
Researchers determined that female observers reported significantly higher levels of anger, demoralization, fear and anxiety when they observed other female employees being treated rudely and discourteously at work. Demoralization was the strongest negative emotion experienced by observing women.
Similarly, male observers were significantly angrier, fearful and anxious the more they observed other men being treated uncivilly at work, compared to females. Interestingly, demoralization was not a negative emotion experienced by male observers in these situations.
Researchers believe the observations accurately depict the gender differences in how individuals respond to personal attacks upon both themselves and others.
The authors conclude: “Our results paint a complex picture about the experience of specific negative emotions in response to observed incivility toward same gender co-workers.
“In some cases, women are more affected (demoralized) and in others, men are more affected (angry, fearful and anxious).”
The study is published online in Springer’s journal Sex Roles.