Workplace Incivility Has Doubled Over the Past 20 Years

August 11th 2016

Tricia Tongco

If you've ever had a job, you have probably experienced firsthand how rudeness can create bad vibes at work.

Curt remarks, sarcasm, and put-downs might seem like a minor problem, but workplace incivility is quite damaging. And it's becoming more common.

"Workplace incivility has doubled over the past two decades and has an average annual impact on companies of $14,000 per employee due to loss of production and work time," according to a new study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Researchers asked 70 employees to answer a survey on incivility and its effects three times a day for 10 workdays in a row in order to measure workplace rudeness. One of the most interesting findings was the phenomenon of "incivility spirals": How an act of incivility can unintentionally beget subsequent acts of incivility.

Russell Johnson, co-author of the report and associate professor of management at MSU, said in a statement:

"When employees are mentally fatigued, it is more difficult for them to keep their negative impulses and emotions in check, which leads them to be condescending and rude to colleagues. This happens even for employees who desire to be agreeable and polite; they simply lack the energy to suppress curt and impatient responses."

If you work in a politically charged environment where employees "do what is best for them, not what is best for the organization," you're much more likely to witness incivility.

"Being the victim of incivility leaves employees depleted, because they must expend energy to understand why they were targeted and how to respond," the study found. A highly political workplace where "intentions and motives of others are less clear" can further complicate rude actions.

There is some hope: The study offers some useful advice.

Employers need to be clear to their employees about what type of behavior they desire in the workplace in order to reduce the perception of politics at work.

"This can be accomplished informally, by enhancing the quality of feedback provided during day-to-day interactions, or more formally via the performance management process," the study said.