As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, so does the heightened stress and uncertainty felt by employees in the workplace. Hopes of an immediate return to “normal” work units have been dashed. Even under the best of circumstances, companies and their employees face massive unknowns: How will they cope with long-term hybrid work models (offline + remote work)? In an ever-changing environment, how do they adjust themselves to better survive and compete? Can their business survive other unexpected crises? How would the characters change if they were to survive better? Whose jobs will be safe?
All of the above uncertainties can have adverse effects on psychology and behavior. Research shows that uncertain environments are more likely to make people behave rudely, incivilly, and lack respect for others, while also causing greater harm to employees who are treated rudely.
This can be more dangerous to organizations than you might think. Employees who experience incivil behavior in the workplace tend to perform worse at work, are less helpful to other colleagues, and are more likely to steal. Workplace rudeness can also reduce employee retention and company profits. It is estimated that just dealing with rudeness in the workplace can cost organizations over $25,000.
The vast majority of employees have experienced rude behavior in the workplace. In a research survey, 98% of the respondents reported that they had been rudely treated in various ways such as insulting, ignoring, and interrupting their speech. As a result, researchers describe workplace rudeness as an epidemic. However, our recent survey results show that nearly 70% of employees have experienced incivil behavior in the workplace. While the rate is still high, it’s not as high as previously thought, and it’s more like a small, endemic disease that just wreaks havoc locally. We inspected many workplaces and found that there is only one source of uncivilized behavior in the workplace, that is, a certain bastard in the office is like a polluted water pump, causing uncivilized behavior to spew out. pot of soup”.
While few people are rude at work, the high percentage of employees who experience uncivil behavior means that the number of “perpetrators” of workplace incivility is widespread. However, the occurrence of uncivilized behavior is not unrelated to the dislocation of interpersonal relationships. That said, the office jerk who started the fight is certainly to blame, as is the imbalance in the relationship between perpetrator and victim. After all, even the most obnoxious jerk doesn’t rude everyone at work. In our study, only 16 percent of workplace relationships were truly rude. That said, while most employees have experienced incivil treatment, most of their relationships can’t be described as rude.
In this article, we explain why examining incivil employee relationships is critical to understanding and addressing this harmful and costly behavior, and offer some suggestions on how to prevent such relationships from spreading in the workplace.
Typically, when researchers examine rudeness in the workplace or other types of interpersonal bullying, they ask respondents to recall how often they have been treated maliciously over a period of time (usually a year) in the past. Such hostile treatment includes others calling themselves in an unprofessional way or excluding themselves from conversations. Respondents were then asked how often they responded to the poor treatment they had received during that time period. The correlation between the two survey indicators (i.e. personal experience of bad treatment and personal bad treatment of others) suggests that repaying evil for evil is the norm in the workplace. However, even if someone is treated extremely badly, you won’t know why unless you look at the old and new feuds among those colleagues. Since previous research has only revealed people’s propensity to be rude or to treat others rudely in all workplace relationships, we decided to take a different approach in this study to find out what the problem is.
We conducted a survey of restaurant and office workers in the United States, as well as manufacturing workers in China, asking how often they experienced rudeness and rudeness to others in their work groups. Across all three samples, we surveyed a total of 598 employees in 119 workgroups. These working groups vary in size from as large as 40 people to as small as 4 people. In all, we investigated 5,374 unique relationships among various types of employees in different work environments.
Why does rude behavior occur in the workplace? Previous research has shown that characteristics such as an employee’s personality and position in the organization are major factors in determining the degree to which that employee is treated rudely or treats others rudely in a given workplace. For example, women and newcomers experience more disrespect in the workplace than men and veterans. Employees who are meticulous and agreeable tend to behave less badly in the workplace than colleagues who are less reliable and less collaborative. However, in our research, we found that the relationship between colleagues is as important as the personality of employees, which is one of the reasons for uncivilized behavior in the workplace. Even if one employee (the jerk in the office) is very rude to a lot of people and another employee (the punching bag in the office) is treated rudely by a lot of people, their unique relationship with certain co-workers can still explain how they get along with each other How is it. In other words, the incivility among certain employees often exceeds what we would expect from their general tendencies. For example, some relationships are competitive, while others are jealous. Therefore, in order to prevent uncivilized behaviors in the workplace, managers should focus on cultivating civilized relationships among team members.
What are the norms of civility in the workplace? While rude and uncivil behavior in general violates the interpersonal and organizational norms of comity and respect, cultural and regulatory differences in work environments define what is appropriate and what is inappropriate. For example, swearing is likely to make most employees disliked by their bosses or HR departments, but in certain male-dominated work environments (such as construction, food service, financial firms, or technology startups), such behavior can often be ok. Tolerated, even considered fun, friendly and perfectly social. By the same token, spreading gossip is considered malicious in most workplaces, but can be used to amplify influence in certain settings. Therefore, in the study we asked respondents how their workplace defined rudeness and incivility, in addition to how they got along with each co-worker.
Specifically, we asked them to explain their organization’s descriptive and prescriptive norms for civilized behavior. Descriptive norms tell us how people do things in practice, and prescriptive norms tell us how people should do them in theory. While the two often overlap, that’s not always the case. For example, most people would theoretically agree that speaking out and making suggestions would improve the company’s operations, but in practice they don’t because they fear it could damage their reputation or career prospects. In our research we were interested to see whether these two norms influenced the degree to which employees treated each other rudely. If so, which types of norms are more influential in fostering or discouraging rude behavior?
Research shows that both types of norms influence rude behavior in the workplace. When an employee encounters uncivilized behavior by colleagues, whether he finds that others in the organization engage in some uncivilized behavior more frequently (in which case descriptive norms are stronger) or finds that others in the organization approve of some uncivilized behavior. (In this case the prescriptive norm is stronger), they are all more likely to fight back, rough for rough. For example, in one restaurant we studied, when an employee saw other employees insulting, ignoring, and making fun of a colleague, he was more likely to respond in the same way to a colleague who had treated him rudely. At another store with less descriptive norms, employees were less likely to be rude to co-workers who insulted and despised them. The same goes for prescriptive specifications. Gossip abounds in the office because employees who gossip believe that their co-workers find such rude behavior acceptable, not to mention that the person they gossip about has also chewed their own tongue behind their backs. If they knew it was unacceptable, they probably wouldn’t do it either. Interestingly, we found that prescriptive norms were more important than descriptive norms: an employee’s perception of how they behaved with colleagues had a greater impact on rude behavior than what an employee actually observed with their colleagues.
How managers respond
Based on our findings, what can managers do? Based on the results of the current survey, what we see in follow-up research, and observations from consulting with organizations, we offer the following three recommendations.
1. Create strong shared expectations about how people behave. Managers play an important role in creating organizational norms by leading by example in many areas of work life, such as attendance, safety, creativity, and performance. So it’s no surprise that they set the civilized tone of the organization in this way.
Such an approach establishes a descriptive norm in which employees can witness and learn from the leader’s actual behavior. However, our research shows that prescriptive norms carry more weight than descriptive norms, and managers need to think about how to form consensus on codes of conduct. Of course, you can clearly communicate your organization’s policies regarding civilized behavior. “We don’t have or want assholes at Jefferies,” said Richard Handler, CEO of the Jefferies Group, in a letter to managers of investment banking firms. In one sentence, Handler conveyed both a descriptive norm, “We don’t have assholes here,” and a prescriptive norm, “We don’t want assholes.” He went on to explain in the letter: “Assholes are those who wait until the last minute to assign work, create unnecessary projects or deadlines, or are simply insensitive.” Handler also elaborates on what workplace behaviors the company wants. He encourages managers to thank and befriend new colleagues, include them in client meetings and focus on their personal and professional development.
We find that the effects of prescriptive norms in the workplace are consistent with research on deterring other types of misbehavior. Social psychologist Robert Cialdini conducted a classic experiment in Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park. As tourists steal tons of fossil wood from the forest every year, one piece at a time, it adds up and over time poses a serious threat to the survival of the park. To find the best way to reduce theft, Roberto Cialdini and his team displayed a variety of signs at popular spots in the park, randomly giving visitors information about descriptive or prescriptive norms. The researchers then intentionally placed 20 wood fossils in designated locations and tracked how many were lost after a few hours. As a result, signs with instructional wording (“Please do not remove fossil wood from the park”) were more effective than signs with descriptive wording (“In the past many tourists have taken fossil wood from the park, causing the natural state of the petrified forest to occur Change”) is more convincing and effective in reducing petrified wood theft. As it turns out, efforts to deter incivility with descriptive norms can be misinterpreted, because saying a deplorable behavior occurs frequently sends a complicated message. As Cialdini and his colleagues put it: “The descriptive language is meant to tell you that many people are doing this unwelcome thing, but the subtext is a powerful normative message that many people are doing it.” In doing so, it defeats the point of the warning.” When
it comes to incivility in the workplace, you might think that people would be more receptive to positive descriptions of positive behavior than to be told what not to do. To be sure, it’s not uncommon to see positive descriptive language such as “In this company we treat people with courtesy and respect” on the walls around the office and in leaders’ values statements or company-wide emails . However, in fact, negative information is easier to get the attention of the brain than positive information, and it is more “sticky”. Therefore, managers should remind employees what not to do. Evidence shows that companies are most effective in enforcing anti-incivility codes in the workplace when managers clearly define what behaviors will not be tolerated. Otherwise, those policies sound like empty slogans.
2. Provide targeted training. The root of rude behavior is a relationship imbalance, and we recommend targeted training to benefit employees who are stuck in a relationship vortex. This approach is more cost-effective than comprehensive training for the entire company, and it is easier to tailor it to specifically address the interpersonal problems faced by employees.
That said, we wouldn’t recommend singling out employees for training for mild rudeness, name-calling and bullying are another matter. If employees are called out for something they may not even be aware of, they will feel punished and resentful, refusing to receive training. Instead, the training should focus on those teams or departments that are having trouble dealing with interpersonal issues (such as lack of active listening or difficulty giving and receiving constructive feedback), rather than promoting general civility norms across the organization.
Evidence suggests that team building, such as icebreaker games and role-playing, can reduce the incidence of incivility and its impact on employee turnover. It helps employees get to know their co-workers better so they can recognize and respond to each other’s needs. These activities allow them to practice coping with uncivil behavior in a safe environment while learning, with guidance, how to build relationships and solve problems constructively.
3. Encourage a mindset of gratitude and appreciation. A final tip for addressing workplace rudeness is for managers to foster a mindset of mutual gratitude and appreciation among employees at work. Our previous research has shown that simply taking a few minutes each day to document who or what they are grateful for is associated with lower levels of rudeness toward co-workers. But as we’ve written before, organizations can’t just throw employees a gratitude journal and expect their behavior to improve. Managers need to do two things: regularly encourage employees to show mutual gratitude and appreciation, and show them how to do so.
To do both of the above, you can incorporate words of gratitude into your team’s daily work. For example, ask each employee to share something they’re grateful for before a meeting, create a dedicated Slack channel for employees to recognize the efforts of others, and encourage employees to send a short thank you email to someone on the team every day. Research shows that these small but frequent acknowledgments can quickly become the norm. Some studies have also shown that leaders play a particularly important role in promoting and promoting the formation of such behavioral norms. So when leaders openly engage in such activities and ask others to do the same, expressing gratitude and appreciation quickly becomes a rite of passage, and getting it done doesn’t feel like a chore. It’s just “the way we do things here”, which means that things are meant to be done that way. When such behavioral norms are established to lift each other up, employees are less likely to put each other down.
Like many other behaviors at work, expressing gratitude is a skill that can be improved. In fact, research shows that certain words of thanks build better relationships. When a co-worker does something helpful or useful, the most effective response is not to describe how you benefited from it, but to praise the good thing he did. For example, instead of replying, “Thank you for taking the stress out of my job,” try saying, “Thank you for taking time out of work for this,” or “You’re really good at Excel.” When you focus on the contributions of your colleagues rather than the benefits you receive, they are more likely to feel that you understand, appreciate and care about them, helping to create and strengthen bonds with them.
More than a decade ago, Stanford University professor Bob Sutton coined the term “no asshole rule,” advising companies to keep assholes out of the workplace. While Sutton’s advice is useful for hiring and firing workers, it doesn’t fully address the problem of rudeness in the workplace, as our research shows that incivility at work depends not only on an employee’s personality but also on the employee’s relationship with each other. Unique relationship between colleagues.
Even as organizations gradually weather the pandemic, the conditions for incivil behavior will remain. But by encouraging mutual respect among employees and by establishing and communicating clear expectations, managers can reduce the likelihood that rudeness will take root in the workplace and make civility part of the new normal in the workplace.