How Rude! Incivility in the Workplace Has Widespread Effects

Aug. 24, 2011
The stress that results from rude, hostile or otherwise unfriendly interactions between coworkers can seep into an employee’s personal life and affect his or her relationships outside of the workplace, according to a Baylor University study. Stressed-out workers even can “infect” their spouses, who in turn may take that stress into their own workplaces.

“Employees who experience such incivility at work bring home the stress, negative emotion and perceived ostracism that results from those experiences, which then affects more than their family life – it also creates problems for the partner’s life at work,” said Merideth J. Ferguson, Ph.D., study author and assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship at the Baylor University Hankamer School of Business.

The study included 190 workers and their partners. Workers were employed full time, had co-workers and had an employed partner who agreed to complete an online survey. The partners then completed a separate survey. Approximately 57 percent of the employee sample was male with an average age of 36, while 43 percent of the partner sample was male with an average age of 35. Of these couples, 75 percent had children living with them.

According to Ferguson, the research shows that workplace incivility must be stopped before it affects the employee’s partner and, possibly, crosses over into the partner’s workplace as well. Furthermore, the partner of a stressed, distracted employee may pick up additional family responsibilities to help out – responsibilities that can interfere with that partner’s work life, thus creating a vicious cycle.

“One approach to prevent this stress might be to encourage workers to seek support through their organization’s employee assistance program or other resources, such as counseling or stress management, so that tactics or mechanisms for buffering the effect of incivility’s stress on the family can be identified,” Ferguson said.

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