A new study by psychologists at Lund University in Sweden has suggested that rudeness at work is contagious, and therefore workplace incivility should be treated with the utmost seriousness.
The investigators surveyed nearly 6 000 people on the social climate in the workplace. Their studies show that being subjected to rudeness is a major reason for dissatisfaction at work and that unpleasant behavior spreads if nothing is done about it.
‘75% of the survey respondents stated that they had been subjected to rudeness at least once or twice in the past year. Being subjected to such workplace rudeness is a major reason for dissatisfaction at work and this unpleasant behavior spreads if nothing is done about it.’
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.
Eva Torkelson, who is leading the project, said, "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."
Torkelson observed that bullying in the workplace is quite a well-documented phenomenon, whereas rudeness that risks turning into bullying is not. The research team's studies show that the most common cause of acting rudely is imitating the behavior of colleagues.
In total, 75% of the survey respondents stated that they had been subjected to rudeness at least once or twice in the past year. As people often imitate the behavior of others, there is a risk that rudeness becomes a vicious circle with considerable consequences for the entire workplace. Eva Torkelson thinks that the solution is training for staff and managers.
The study appears in Biomed Research International.