Being subjected to rudeness in the workplace is a major dissatisfaction for employees, according to a new study.
The research, conducted by three psychologists at Lund University in Sweden, also found that rudeness spreads if nothing is done about it.
According to the researchers, rudeness in this context refers to something that goes under the radar for what is prohibited and that in some way violates the norm for mutual respect. It can refer to petty behavior, such as excluding someone from information and cooperation, or “forgetting” to invite someone to a communal event.
It can also refer to taking credit for the work of others, spreading rumors, sending malicious emails, or not giving praise to subordinates.
“It’s really about behavior that is not covered by legislation, but which can have considerable consequences and develop into outright bullying if it is allowed to continue,” said Dr. Eva Torkelson, who is leading the project on rudeness as a social process in organizations.
While bullying in the workplace is a well-documented phenomenon, rudeness that risks turning into bullying is not, she noted.
For the study, the researchers surveyed nearly 6,000 people on the social climate in the workplace. About 75 percent reported they had been subjected to rudeness at least one to two times in the past year.
“An important finding from our studies is that those who behave rudely in the workplace experience stronger social support, which probably makes them less afraid of negative reactions to their behavior from managers and colleagues,” said Dr. Martin Bäckström, a professor of psychology.
The study found that the most common cause of acting rudely is imitating the behavior of colleagues.
This means there is a risk that rudeness becomes a vicious circle with considerable consequences for the entire workplace, according to the researchers.
Consequences discovered in previous research include mental illness, reduced job satisfaction, staff members who work less efficiently or seek jobs elsewhere, reduced loyalty, and more conflicts.
One solution to reducing rudeness in the workplace is training for the employees and managers, according to Torkelson.
“When people become aware of the actual consequences of rudeness, it is often an eye-opener,” she said. “And, of course, most people do not want to be involved in making the workplace worse.”