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Rude Coworkers Could Affect Your Health, Study Finds

Topics: Data & Research

Rude coworkers bringing you down? You’re not alone. Ninety-nine percent of people have experienced “workplace incivility,” according to reports cited by Sandy Hershcovis, lead researcher for a new study on workplace rudeness. And, just because the behavior is routine doesn’t mean its effects are insignificant.

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Image Credit: Giulio Fornasar/Getty Images

“We found that people who were treated rudely at work experienced higher levels of embarrassment, lower levels of belongingness,” says Herschcovis, an associate professor in Organizational Behaviour and Human Resources at the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary, in an interview with CBC News. “They felt like they didn’t fit in, and those translated into higher feelings of job insecurity and more negative health outcomes, including stomach problems, headaches and sleeplessness.”

Researchers collected data on 501 full-time workers in North America, asking them to recall an incident during the last six months in which a coworker treated them in an uncivil manner (or, in the case of participants who could not recall such an example, a neutral incident). A week later, researchers asked respondents questions related to job insecurity and physical symptoms. Three-hundred participants answered the second survey. A follow-up diary study asked a separate group of participants to complete a short survey every three days for three months.

The study, which was conducted by researchers from the University of Calgary and the London School of Economics, was published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior.

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What Does “Workplace Incivility” Look Like?

The researchers defined “workplace incivility” as “low intensity deviant acts with ambiguous intent to harm.” In other words: not necessarily aggressive rudeness.

“It was a deviant behaviour and it could include things like, walking by someone without saying ‘Hello,’ or talking over someone while they are in meeting, stuff like that,” says Hershcovis to CBC News.

Despite the mildness of the behavior, the impacts were severe. A single incident with a rude coworker affected respondents’ sense of job security and physical well-being for an average of three days, according to the researchers.

Surprise: Workplace Rudeness Is Worse When It Comes From the Boss

No one who’s ever struggled with a bad manager will be shocked to learn that the somatic and emotional effects of workplace incivility were more severe when the rude behavior came from the boss.

“It is important to note that incivility is more embarrassing when it comes from someone who is powerful, and that the powerful exacerbate the already negative effects of incivility,” Herschcovis tells Global News.

On the upside, the research also showed that managers had the ability to moderate the effects of incivility in the workplace.

The researchers write:

Organizations can help mitigate these adverse effects by understanding them and encouraging respectful workplace interactions. Given that mistreatment from powerful perpetrators was perceived as especially embarrassing for targets, encouraging high power organizational members to assure targets of their value to the organization may be particularly helpful. Managers can also ensure that employees do not feel socially isolated by creating an environment of inclusion.

The study authors suggest that managers embrace team-building activities and open-door policies, among other techniques, to create a more supportive environment.

Tell Us What You Think

Has a coworker treated you rudely — and if so, how did it affect you? We want to hear from you. Tell us your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.


Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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