Researchers found that when employees are the target of rude behaviour, they lose self-control and commit such acts themselves.
Rude behaviours are less serious than openly hostile behaviour such as bullying, harassment and threats, but it is more frequent in the workplace and have a significant effect on employees, the study found.
Lead researcher Chris Rosen said: “And it’s probably costing companies a lot more money. Estimates are that workplace incivility has doubled over the past two decades and on average costs companies about 14,000 dollars per employee annually because of loss of production and work time.”
The team surveyed 70 employees thrice a day for 10 consecutive workdays. The employees answered questions and completed performance-based tasks that allowed the researchers to study how and why acts of incivility are contagious in business organizations.
The researchers found that experiencing rude behaviour increased mental fatigue, which reduced employees’ self-control and led them to act in a similar, discourteous manner later in the day.
The ‘incivility spirals’ occurred unintentionally and predominantly in workplaces that were perceived as political, which was defined as an environment where workers do what is best for them and not best for the organization.
“Basically, incivility begets incivility,” said Rosen.
Adding, “And our findings verify that these contagion effects occur within very short, even daily cycles.”
To reduce perceptions of politics at work, the researchers suggested that managers provide clear feedback to employees regarding the types of behaviours that are desired.
This practice can be accomplished informally by enhancing the quality of feedback during day-to-day interactions or formally through performance evaluations.
The study was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.