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Rudeness is an increasingly common problem in the workplace, according to a recent study.

Researchers from Indiana Wesleyan University and Florida International University presented their findings at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association this month: according to the study, 86 percent of 289 employees in three Midwestern firms reported workplace incivility.

From a Chicago Sun-Times article:

“It’s a growing and prevalent problem,” says study co-author Jeannie Trudel of Indiana Wesleyan University-Marion…

Key reasons: fewer workers as a result of economic pressures, and, as a result, longer hours and higher demand on those workers who remain…

The researchers defined that as “a form of organizational deviance … characterized by low-intensity behaviors that violate respectful workplace norms.”

In plainer terms, it’s rude behavior, insults and just plain bad manners.

“It’s very hard to target because you don’t really know if someone means to be rude … so it’s an insidious problem,” Trudel says. “There are very, very negative effects of accumulated minor stresses when a workplace is considered uncivil.”

The researchers believe that the circumstances of a tough economy can put a constant strain on employees and contribute to an unfriendly company culture.

Another study this year had slightly less alarming numbers, yet still indicated that there is a problem with workplace rudeness. It also alluded that there may be a need for company leadership to make civility training and education a priority. From USA Today:

The Civility in America 2011 poll of 1,000 adults found 43% of Americans say they’ve experienced incivility at work, and 38% believe the workplace is increasingly disrespectful. In the online survey, done in May by Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate in partnership with KRC Research, 67% cited a “critical need” for civility training.

In a CBS News article, a few experts weighed in on the topic, emphasizing that a stressful work environment can cause employees to drop social niceties and increase workplace incivility:

Elizabeth Fenner, assistant managing editor of Money magazine, told “The Early Show,” “It’s not surprising that incivility is on the rise because, when people are stressed and they’re in triage mode all the time, the first thing that goes by the wayside is people saying ‘thank you’ and ‘please.”‘

Psychologist and “Early Show” Contributor Dr. Jennifer Hartstein added, “(Workers are) really not paying attention to their interpersonal skills. They’re really just focusing on how to get the job done. And it doesn’t really matter who they steamroll in the process.”

There are many factors that may contribute to rudeness in the workplace, but the problem can be remedied. The bottom line is that workplace incivility must be addressed by leadership. It is the responsibility of good managers to stop turning a blind eye and make it clear that this kind of behavior is unacceptable. Managers must also model the kind of conduct they want their employees to uphold: by setting a positive example, they will show their employees what the company culture looks like.

The CBS News article quoted Jason Dorsey, a generational workplace expert, with his perspective on the issue:

“A company’s culture is a direct reflection of their leadership,” Dorsey said. “If leadership is not doing their job, you’re going to see that in the culture. So whatever is happening in a company, at the end of the day, is on the shoulder of the leaders. And anybody who does anything different just doesn’t get it. And the second part is what can leaders do? I mean, from my viewpoint, the leaders have to step up and model the behavior.

Do you think rudeness is a growing problem at work? If so, how do you think leadership should address it?


Learn more about EDSI’s Leading With Credibility course.

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