In a pandemic that has underlined our shared vulnerability and responsibility towards one another, surely rudeness is something that will have fallen by the wayside? Research from the University of Central Florida suggests that may be a hasty assumption, at least in the workplace.
The study reveals that 98% of employees have experienced some kind of rude behavior at work, but that the vast majority of our relationships at work are not characterized by rudeness, with this instead limited to isolated incidences of incivility.
“Because prior research suggests workplace mistreatment is harmful and widespread, it is often called an epidemic, but our findings show that rude behavior is less like the flu and more like cholera,” the researchers say. “It is still harmful, but far less common, and outbreaks are often traced to a single source—much like a contaminated water pump.”
Rudeness at work
While the research was conducted before the pandemic, the researchers believe their work is applicable even to the unique environment we’ve all been working under for the past 18 months.
The researchers explored rude behavior between workers in office, manufacturing, and hospitality environments and found that while most of us have experienced rudeness at work, these experiences actually come from a relatively small number of people. That means that while 70% of workers had experienced rudeness at work, just 16% of them felt their work relationships were characterized by rudeness.
The study found that a number of factors, including status, personality, and other individual character traits are all key factors in determining the amount of rudeness present in any workplace. It’s often the individual relationships between people that define whether people will be rude to each other.
“Even if one employee is a jerk to everyone and their co-worker is the office punching bag, there is still something about their unique relationship that explains how well they get along together,” the researchers say. “Most people do experience rude behavior, but most of their relationships are not characterized by rudeness.”
Culture and the various behavioral expectations that form part of it are also crucial to influencing the mistreatment of employees. If we have positive perceptions of how employees should behave towards one another then that can often have a stronger impact on rude behavior than the actual behavior of colleagues to one another.
“Employees’ beliefs about what is ‘right and wrong’ at work have a big impact on what happens on the job,” the researchers say. “Employers should ensure there are strong norms for respect and civility in the workplace. Having a zero-tolerance policy for these rude behaviors is key to stopping mistreatment in its tracks.”
They argue that the most effective way to develop such a culture is to provide clear encouragement that supports the kind of positive interactions that managers want to define their workplace.
“Our prior work shows gratitude and appreciation are important aspects to fostering positive employee relationships and decreasing negative workplace behavior,” the researchers conclude. “Expressing these positive behaviors will be essential in determining how smoothly we return to in-person work environments.”