How rude! Workplace incivility hurts bottom line

Rude work behavior affects the bottom line, according to researchers from Georgetown University and the Thunderbird School of Global Management. Workers across sectors reported being treated rudely at least once a week, and that type of bad behavior is on the rise.

Rude behavior influences productivity and commitment from workers, the researchers noted. Nearly half (48 percent) intentionally decreased their work effort as a result, while 38 percent intentionally decreased the quality of their work. What's more, a quarter (25 percent) said they took out their frustration on customers, and 12 percent said they left their job because of incivility in the workplace.

The study suggests rude behavior does have a price, costing millions in some cases, the researchers wrote in Harvard Business Review. But leaders can mitigate incivility.

"It can take constant vigilance to keep the workplace civil. … Leaders set the tone, so you need to be aware of your actions and of how you come across to others," they wrote.

For instance, one unnamed hospital in Los Angeles sends physicians who exhibit disruptive behavior to "charm school" to improve their behavior and reduce the potential for lawsuits.

Louisiana's Ochsner Health System implemented "the 10/5 way," in which employees must smile and make eye contact with others within 10 feet or say hello if within five feet. Ochsner said the policy has improved patient satisfaction and patient referrals.

Many top hospitals "have learned the hard way that it simply doesn't pay to harbor habitual offenders, even if they're rainmakers or protégés. Whether offenders have caused multimillion-dollar lawsuits or been responsible for the exit of throngs of employees, often the losses could have been mitigated by early, resolute action," the researchers noted.

In a separate organizational management study, called "You can't put old wine in new bottles," published in PLOS ONE, researchers from Chapman University found that newcomers to a group can reduce trust levels and lead to poor coordination and performance.

Known as the "black-sheep effect," newcomers create distrust in poor-performing groups. Existing workers ("oldtimers") carefully watch how each other behaves, rather than how the newcomers behave.

Researchers noted that managers and leaders of collective action need not only worry about how oldtimers perceive the newcomers but also how the oldtimers perceive each other. One way managers can mitigate this "social uncertainty," or "strategic risk," is by sharing information about each other's' abilities and values before the group change.

For more information:
- see the research announcement on rude behavior and article in the Harvard Business Review  
- read the PLOS study on newcomers in groups

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