Ten years ago that number had doubled. 4 years ago 1 in 4 employees reported seeing workplace rudeness on a daily basis.
And it isn’t just rudeness between co-workers. 25% of customers reported rude behaviour from service providers. Half said they saw colleagues being rude to each other, half said they saw customers being treated rudely, and 40% said they experienced rudeness on a monthly basis.
Of course it goes both ways and customers and the public can be just as rude to service providers’ front-line staff.
Research shows that rudeness has detrimental effects on a business. People on the receiving end report losing focus and even having time off or thinking of leaving. They also begin to avoid the perpetrators.
Rather than rely on subjective self-reports (after all one person’s rudeness is another person’s bluntness) researchers Christine Porath and Amir Erez designed a series of experiments to study the effect of rudeness – both indirect viz being rude about the participants’ reference group, and direct by being rude to participants personally.
They found that people treated rudely only once, and in an indirect and impersonal manner, were less able to perform simple cognitive tasks. And the same applied to those who were only asked to visualise such a situation. Both groups lost focus and their task performance worsened.
For those subject to direct personal rudeness the effects were much worse. They were less creative on a “uses for a brick” test and their ideas were less diverse and more routine eg build a house.
Creativity, which requires the juggling of ideas old and new and the integration of possibilities, was impaired and so was helpfulness.
People treated uncivilly are less inclined to help others. In one experiment helpful behaviour occurred between 75% and 90% of the time but when the experimenter was rude about the group as a whole helpful assistance dropped to 35% and when insulted personally by a stranger it dropped to 24%.
Overall they found that even mild forms of rudeness, whether delivered by an authority figure or a stranger, whether direct or indirect or just imagined, had an impact on performance, creativity and helpfulness.
The researchers don’t think this effect was because of the desire to retaliate or strike back but perhaps because the targets of rude behaviour either shut down or use their cognitive assets to make sense of the behaviour rather than using them to learn and complete the tasks.
They also found that just witnessing rude behaviour was enough to make people perform tasks less effectively and less creatively as well as making them less likely to be helpful. It could also provoke them into acting more aggressively.
And rudeness in organisations can mean a range of behaviours from taking credit for others’ work, ignoring messages, not asking politely or saying “thank you”, to having temper tantrums.
Unfortunately in organisations it’s been found that rude, arrogant, managers are often perceived as powerful and effective decision-makers. However the truth is that rudeness not only impacts on employee engagement but on the bottom line.
Porath and her colleagues estimated it cost the US economy $300 billion in lost productivity when they were researching their book “The Cost of Bad Behaviour: How Incivility is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It”.
Originally posted on SGANDA
It doesn’t mean however that you will be seen as powerful.
The evidence suggests that it is the rude and arrogant person who is perceived as being a powerful decision-maker.
A paper published in Social Psychological & Personality Science (2011); “Breaking Rules to Rise to Power...” found that people rated rule-breakers as being more in control and leaderlike than conscientious types.
Researchers in Amsterdam wanted to see if the reverse were true. If you break the rules are you seen as more powerful? And the answer appears to be yes.
People in positions of power have more freedom to act and can ignore the rules. Research has shown that powerful people often ignore the social norms of he workplace for example by taking more than their share of the biscuits from the plate, eating with their mouths open and spreading crumbs.
In the Dutch experiments participants were given scenarios in which people violated the rules at work by stealing coffee and ignoring financial anomalies. A control group was given similar scenarios without the norm violations. Participants recognised the norm violations but also rated the culprits as more powerful.
Then, in a real-life experiment in a waiting room, one of the confederates who arrived late and threw his bag on the table was perceived as the more powerful. In another video experiment they tested the hypothesis that powerful people react with anger rather than sadness to negative events, in this case treating a waiter brusquely and dropping cigarette ash on the floor.
The authors say; “as individuals gain power they experience increased freedom to violate prevailing norms. Paradoxically these norm violations may not undermine the actor’s power but instead augment it, thus fuelling a self-perpetuating cycle of power and immorality“.
Rudeness is a cross we have to bear in the workplace. Surveys show that the percentage of employees experiencing rudeness at work more than once a week doubled between 1998 and 2005 from 25% to 50%. In fact in 2005 25% of employees experienced rudeness every day.
This has a negative effect on the organisation as people lose focus, try to avoid the rude person, are less productive and think more about leaving. And you don’t have to be the object of the rudeness. According to American researchers, just witnessing it effects your cognitive ability in problem solving, flexibility, creativity, and helpfulness. Like stress the rude encounter makes us more stupid.
And it seems more than 9 out of 10 people get even with the rude person or the organisation in some way eg through vendettas. And rudeness seems to be contagious making us ruder and more aggressive than we would be normally. So not good for the organisation let alone customers and employees.
On the other hand research at the University of Michigan shows that virtuous behaviour has the opposite effect. The more people experience helpfulness, forgiveness, generosity, courage, and support – or even just witness it – the more they are likely to do the same.
So virtuous behaviours encourage flexibility, creativity and good team work and makes employees feel good at work, thus enhancing employee engagement.
But what of the rude and arrogant people themselves? A report in the Psychologist this year described the work of Russell Johnson and colleagues at Michigan State University who developed a Workplace Arrogance Scale (WARS) to use in their research. This measured behaviours such as “shoots down other people’s ideas in public“.
First they defined arrogance as “behaviours that exaggerate your importance and disparages others“. So first cousin to narcissism except that narcissism includes thoughts and attitudes that don’t effect others such as self-admiration.
Their research showed that arrogant individuals report fewer examples of organisational citizenship behaviours such as helping people and going the extra mile. So confirmation of other research in this field.
They then looked at how good arrogant employees were at their jobs. They used the WARS, measures of overall task performance and performance in specific areas such as customers, relationships, and development. Individuals rated themselves and were rated by nominated individuals in their organisation – a selective 360 degree survey.
They found that arrogant workers were rated as being weaker in almost every way by their raters. Some people who rated their managers as arrogant also rated them as poor across the board so there was possibly a horns (negative halo) effect or just some of the payback other researchers have found.
Perhaps surprisingly arrogant employees also rated themselves weaker at relationships and overall performance with both their supervisors and direct reports in agreement. In another study the arrogant individuals reported lower self-esteem and more job-related strain. They also seem to fixate on minimising mistakes rather than focussing on success.
As the research didn’t include objective measures such as sales figures, it might be that arrogant employees realise they are ostracised and because of their low self-esteem join with their critics and discount themselves about their perceived performance.