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How Rudeness Spreads at Work

How Rudeness Spreads at Work

Condescending comments, put-downs, and sarcasm can be commonplace in many workplaces. Now, a new study shows how such incivility may be spreading.

Michigan State University professor Dr. Russell Johnson and colleagues found that experiencing such rude behavior reduces employees’ self-control and leads them to act in a similar uncivil manner.

“People who are recipients of incivility at work feel mentally fatigued as a result, because uncivil behaviors are somewhat ambiguous and require employees to figure out whether there was any abusive intent,” said Johnson, associate professor of management.

“This mental fatigue, in turn, led them to act uncivil toward other workers. In other words, they paid the incivility forward.”

The new study appears in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Although the researchers discovered openly hostile behavior such as bullying and threats were uncommon, curt comments and rudeness were prevalent. This incivility was found to have a significant effect on employees.

According to estimates, workplace incivility has doubled over the past two decades and has an average annual impact on companies of $14,000 per employee due to loss of production and work time.

For the study, 70 employees filled out a survey relating to incivility and its effects three times a day for 10 consecutive workdays. Interestingly, the researchers found that “incivility spirals” — when acts of incivility lead to subsequent acts of incivility — can occur unintentionally.

“When employees are mentally fatigued, it is more difficult for them to keep their negative impulses and emotions in check, which leads them to be condescending and rude to colleagues,” Johnson said. “This happens even for employees who desire to be agreeable and polite; they simply lack the energy to suppress curt and impatient responses.”

The study also found that incivility spirals occurred in workplaces that were perceived as political (i.e., where co-workers “do what is best for them, not what is best for the organization”).

“Being the victim of incivility leaves employees depleted because they must expend energy to understand why they were targeted and how to respond,” the study states. This is made more complex in highly political environments where “intentions and motives of others are less clear.”

One way to reduce perceptions of politics, the study says, is by providing clear feedback to employees regarding the types of behaviors that are desired.

“This can be accomplished informally, by enhancing the quality of feedback provided during day-to-day interactions, or more formally via the performance management process.”

Source: Michigan State University

How Rudeness Spreads at Work

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2016). How Rudeness Spreads at Work. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 21, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2016/08/11/vicious-cycle-of-worksite-mental-fatigue-and-rudeness/108435.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 11 Aug 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 11 Aug 2016
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.