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How rudeness at work is damaging workplaces... (1/2)

Posted On: March 5, 2013, 4:50 am ; Read: 25456 time(s)

Could rudeness and poor manners be damaging your workplace?

Recent articles in Harvard Business Review presented the results of research conducted on workplace rudeness; the findings of Christine Porath and Christine Pearson weren't particularly positive...

Rudeness at work is rampant, and it’s on the rise.  Over the past 14 years we’ve polled thousands of workers about how they’re treated on the job, and 98% have reported experiencing uncivil behaviour. In 2011 half said they were treated rudely at least once a week - up from a quarter in 1998."

When asked what drives this behaviour, their research showed that "over 60% blame their bad behaviour on being overloaded at work. About one in four people are rude because their bosses are rude.”
As it turns out, despite and in spite of, the buzz and increasing popularity of staff engagement, valuing employees and the importance of rewards and recognition, rudeness in the workplace is still occurring.  In fact, it is suggested that rudeness in the workplace is now even more common than before.  With potential reasons cited as the actions and/or encouragement of senior managers. - Potentially poorly structured or managed engagement solutions?

Rudeness at workRudeness is not only found in the form of verbal abuse, such as “hurling insults, belittling efforts, slamming doors”, use of profanity or raising voices.  It's also found in subtle forms of incivility such as “blaming employees for things over which they had no control, side conversations, exclusion, blatant disregard for people’s time” or efforts.  For supervisors or managers, this can be further expounded to not giving/receiving feedback, not communicating openly, assigning too many tasks or imposing deadlines that are either impossible or seemingly impossible to meet.

What is even more alarming is the stand – or lack thereof - that companies are taking on the issue:Twenty percent say their company or boss doesn't care how people treat each other.  Complaints aren't taken seriously, and we've often heard that those who speak up pay the price.

In the single-minded pursuit of deadlines, profits and ROI; in the guise of being “busy”; employees and managers do not have time to be nice and have come to treat each other as appliances that should be able to do as told, when told, no matter how it’s delivered.  Arguably, we can say that given the general tightening of financial belts nowadays, people are indeed busy with the scope of responsibilities thrust on them.  Employees now are indeed overloaded with tasks that are usually handled by more staff and yet, the pressure to still excel has not diminished.

But the other point of contention is who is not busy? What we fail to account is the ripple effect these behaviours bring.  Incivility and rudeness is counter-productive. It impacts employee morale, confidence and effectiveness.  And it does not just affect the person it is directed at. People vent emotions and we get the urge to retaliate. If we think about it, it does not take time to say hi, to say thank you sincerely or to respond to an email. Having positive working relationships and open communications lines is even more crucial now.  A team cannot be creative or innovative if its members are not comfortable enough to share their thoughts, if they worry about being ridiculed or if they feel that their ideas would not matter.  Believe it or not, people do have a way of knowing if the intent behind what you are saying matches the words that they are hearing.  Even if you say “ I’d like to get your thoughts”, “your feedback is important to me” or “I will look into it”; if people do not believe that you really mean what you say or that you are really interested, you will not get the response that you need.

Our Premium Partner, Tony Wilson, wrote about this topic in his article; The problem with “That’s just his personality”:

“More than merely annoying, rude behaviour is a catalyst for aggression and decreased productivity. When an employee is getting on everyone’s nerves, too many managers are too quick to say “oh, that’s just him”…. especially when it’s a star performer. Addressing behaviour is one of the hardest things that leaders have to do. We don’t like calling out behaviours – generally because it can be pretty subjective and the “rules” are a little ambiguous.  But some new research might make you think again about accepting a team member’s rudeness.

Professor Ido Erev, a specialist in behaviour explored the effect of rudeness. Simply, he asked students to turn up to an office to take a test. Outside the door of the office, obscured by a million post-it notes, was a small sign that said “test moved to another location”. Most students, unable to locate or read the sign, walked into the office anyway, interrupting a lecturer. The lecturer did one of two things: they either turned on the student saying things like “are you stupid? Can’t you read?” or else they pleasantly told the student of their mistake, and pointed them in the right direction.

Down the hall, in the new location, the students took a problem solving test (this is what they thought the experiment was about). The results were astonishing: the students who were treated rudely scored significantly worse in the test than those who were treated pleasantly.

But here’s another impact. The students also did a classic creativity test – in two minutes, they had to think of as many uses as possible for a brick. Those who were treated rudely concocted far more aggressive uses for the brick than those who weren’t, including smashing windows, using it as a weapon, and weighing down a dead body in a river!!

So next time you hear complaints about rude or unfair behaviour amongst your team, think twice about looking the other way. You just never know how big the impact is to those around you. You might even find yourself on the wrong end of a brick.”

We would like to know what you think?...

  • Have you experienced or do you experience workplace incivility/rudeness?
  • How does this affect you and your work?
  • Does your organization have structures in place to combat this behaviour?

Let us know by leaving a comment below. Alternatively share your thoughts on our Facebook page  or Tweet us @WorkIncentives  with the hashtag #workrudeness.


  • Harvard Business Review; The Price of Incivility (http://hbr.org/2013/01/the-price-of-incivility/ar/1)
  • Harvard Business Review; You’re Ruse Because Your Boss is Rude (http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2013/01/youre_rude_because_your_boss_is.html)
  • Tony Wilson’s article; The problem with “That’s just his personality” (http://tony-wilson.com.au/blog/category/self-awareness/)

Joan Carinan is a Premium Solutions Manager for Workplace Incentives. With her previous experiences and having worked closely with all of our key thought leaders, Joan has developed her knowledge of employee motivation, leadership and management. Keen to further her understanding and share her findings and thoughts Joan is one of the writers for the Workplace Incentives Blog.


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