Tag Archives: rudeness

Rudeness and the Bottom Line

We seem to becoming less polite to each other at work. Over 10 years ago 1 in 4 employees said they were treated rudely at least once a week.

Five years ago that number had doubled. Last year 1 in 4 employees reported seeing workplace rudeness on a daily basis.

And it isn’t just rudeness between co-workers. 25% of customers reported rude behaviour from service providers. Half said they saw colleagues being rude to each other, half said  they saw customers being treated rudely, and 40% said they experienced rudeness on a monthly basis.

Of course it goes both ways and customers and the public can be just as rude to service providers’ front-line staff.

Research shows that rudeness has detrimental effects on a business. People on the receiving end report losing focus and even having time off or thinking of leaving. They also begin to avoid the perpetrators.

Rather than rely on subjective self-reports (after all one person’s rudeness is another person’s bluntness) researchers Christine Porath and Amir Erez designed a series of experiments to study the effect of rudeness – both indirect viz being rude about the participants’ reference group, and direct by being rude to participants personally.

They found that people treated rudely only once, and in an indirect and impersonal manner, were less able to perform simple cognitive tasks. And the same applied to those who were only asked to visualise such a situation. Both groups lost focus and their task performance worsened.

For those subject to direct personal rudeness the effects were much worse. They were less creative on a “uses for a brick” test and their ideas were less diverse and more routine eg build a house.

Creativity, which requires the juggling of ideas old and new and the integration of possibilities, was impaired and so was helpfulness.

People treated uncivilly are less inclined to help others. In one experiment helpful behaviour occurred between 75% and 90% of the time  but when the experimenter was rude about the group as a whole helpful assistance dropped to 35% and when insulted personally by a stranger it dropped to 24%.

Overall they found that even mild forms of rudeness, whether delivered by an authority figure or a stranger, whether direct or indirect or just imagined, had an impact on performance, creativity and helpfulness.

The researchers don’t think this effect was because of the desire to retaliate or strike back but perhaps because the targets of rude behaviour either shut down or use their cognitive assets to make sense of the behaviour rather than using them to learn and complete the tasks.

They also found that just witnessing rude behaviour was enough to make people perform tasks less effectively and less creatively as well as making them less likely to be helpful. It could also provoke them into acting more aggressively.

And rudeness in organisations can mean a range of behaviours from taking credit for others’ work, ignoring messages, not asking politely or saying “thank you”, to having temper tantrums.

Unfortunately in organisations it’s been found that rude, arrogant, managers are often perceived as powerful and effective decision-makers. However the truth is that rudeness not only impacts on employee engagement but on the bottom line.

Porath and her colleagues estimated it cost the US economy $300 billion in lost productivity when they were researching their book “The Cost of Bad Behaviour: How Incivility is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It”.

Rude, Arrogant, and Powerful?

Being conscientious is a good predictor of performance in a job.

It doesn’t mean however that you will be seen as powerful.

The evidence suggests that it is the rude and arrogant person who is perceived as being a powerful decision-maker.

A paper published earlier this year in Social Psychological & Personality Science; ” Breaking Rules to Rise to Power…” found that people rated rule-breakers as being more in control and leaderlike than conscientious types.

Researchers in Amsterdam wanted to see if the reverse were true. If you break the rules are you seen as more powerful? And the answer appears to be yes.

People in positions of power have more freedom to act and can ignore the rules. Research has shown that powerful people often ignore the social norms of he workplace for example by taking more than their share of the biscuits from the plate, eating with their mouths open and spreading crumbs.

In the Dutch experiments participants were given scenarios in which people violated the rules at work by stealing coffee and ignoring financial anomalies. A control group was given similar scenarios without the norm violations. Participants recognised the norm violations but also rated the culprits as more powerful.

Then, in a real-life experiment in a waiting room, one of the confederates who arrived late and threw his bag on the table was perceived as the more powerful. In another video experiment they tested the hypothesis that powerful people react with anger rather than sadness to negative events, in this case treating a waiter brusquely and dropping cigarette ash on the floor.

The authors say; “as individuals gain power they experience increased freedom to violate prevailing norms. Paradoxically these norm violations may not undermine the actor’s power but instead augment it, thus fuelling a self-perpetuating cycle of power and immorality”.

Rudeness is a cross we have to bear in the workplace. Surveys show that the percentage of employees experiencing rudeness at work more than once a week doubled between 1998 and 2005 from 25% to 50%. In fact in 2005 25% of employees experienced rudeness every day.

This has a negative effect on the organisation as people lose focus, try to avoid the rude person, are less productive and think more about leaving.  And you don’t have to be the object of the rudeness. According to American researchers, just witnessing it effects your cognitive ability in problem solving, flexibility, creativity, and helpfulness. Like stress the rude encounter makes us more stupid.

And it seems more than 9 out of 10 people get even with the rude person or the organisation in some way eg through vendettas.  And rudeness seems to be contagious making us ruder and more aggressive than we would be normally. So not good for the organisation let alone customers and employees.

On the other hand research at the University of Michigan shows that virtuous behaviour has the opposite effect. The more people experience helpfulness, forgiveness, generosity, courage, and support – or even just witness it – the more they are likely to do the same.

So virtuous behaviours encourage flexibility, creativity and good team work and makes employees feel good at work, thus enhancing employee engagement.

But what of the rude and arrogant people themselves? A report in the Psychologist this year described the work of Russell Johnson and colleagues at Michigan State University who developed a Workplace Arrogance Scale (WARS) to use in their research. This measured behaviours such as “shoots down other people’s ideas in public”.

First they defined arrogance as “behaviours that exaggerate your importance and disparages others”So first cousin to narcissism except that narcissism includes thoughts and attitudes that don’t effect others such as self-admiration.

Their research showed that arrogant individuals report fewer examples of organisational citizenship behaviours such as helping people and going the extra mile. So confirmation of other research in this field.

They then looked at how good arrogant employees were at their jobs. They used the WARS, measures of overall task performance and performance in specific areas such as customers, relationships, and development. Individuals rated themselves and were rated by nominated individuals in their organisation – a selective 360 degree survey.

They found that arrogant workers were rated as being weaker in almost every way by their raters. Some people who rated their managers as arrogant also rated them as poor across the board so there was possibly a horns (negative halo) effect or just some of the payback other researchers have found.

Perhaps surprisingly arrogant employees also rated themselves weaker at relationships and overall performance with both their supervisors and direct reports in agreement. In another study the arrogant individuals reported lower self-esteem and more job-related strain. They also seem to fixate on minimising mistakes rather than focussing on success.

As the research didn’t include objective measures such as sales figures, it might be that arrogant employees realise they are ostracised and because of their low self-esteem join with their critics and discount themselves about their perceived performance.

Stress can be a killer for women in high pressure jobs

We are all aware of how stressful work can be at times. Contrary to popular belief not all of it is caused by the deliberate actions of others but usually because of the way we interpret events. Something that is stressful for one person may not be for someone else. Stress can be caused inadvertently by someone lacking social or management skills, and increasingly rudeness at work is being identified as a major cause.

Common sense tells us that rudeness can affect our mood but it also affects our performance, our problem solving ability, and our willingness to work in a collaborative way – and research shows that even witnessing rudeness can create these adverse outcomes and damage the working climate especially in teams that need to collaborate.

Bullying is another source of stress and it might be on the increase again, fuelled by insecurity because of the recession. It also seems that whilst the majority of bullies are men women bullies can be more persistent. There also seem to be gender differences. I’ve found in my work and research that women are more likely to bully using personal attacks whereas men bully under the pretext of performance management.

Now new research has shown that women in high pressure jobs run twice the normal risk of developing heart problems as a direct result of work-related stress. Those reporting work pressure to an excessive degree are also at an increased risk of developing ischaemic heart disease.

The research, published in the Journal of Occupational Health and Environmental Medicine, was based on a 5-year study of over 12,000 Danish nurses aged between 45 and 64. Whilst the link between stress and heart disease is well-established this is one of the first studies on women.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/may/05/women-heart-attack-stress

Stressed workers often resort to unhealthy ways of coping such as smoking, eating comfort food, or drinking, which can lead to them becoming overweight and creates a vicious circle. In a study carried out by the author amongst NHS employees nurses had the highest sickness absence rates and also smoked the most. Managers on the other hand rarely took time off but drank more!

A research team at Ohio State University has been studying the effects of stress on health for the last 30 years (psycho-neuro-immunology) and have shown that chronic stress can lead to cardiovascular disease, cancer. stroke, osteoporosis and diabetes. The culprit is stress-induced chronic inflammation as a result of the immune system being in a constant  state of high alert. This in turn wears you down and makes your body less able to fight infections and diseases, heal wounds, and develop antibodies. On a less dramatic level it explains why you can’t shake off that cold or persistent cold-sore when you are stressed.

And the latest research shows that children with difficult childhoods, eg through being abused, are especially susceptible to the physical effects of chronic stress and that their immune systems may learn a hyperactive response to stress which kicks in again when they are facing stressful events as an adult.

The good news is that becoming adept at yoga does lower your stress response.

Updated 2 May 2011: Women with high job strain have a 40% increased risk of cardiovascular (CV) disease compared to those with low job strain, according to research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2010. They defined job strain, a form of psychological stress, as having a demanding job, little or no decision-making authority or opportunities to use you creative or individual skills. Their findings were based on a sample of over 17,000 healthy women who participated in the Women’s Health Study. Primarily white health professionals with an average age of 57, they were tracked for 10 years whilst they provided information about job strain and job insecurity.

Job insecurity was associated with risk factors for CV disease such as high blood pressure, increased cholesterol, and excess body weight but not directly associated with heart attacks, strokes and CV death.

The higher CV risks for those who reported high job strain included heart attacks, ischemic strokes, coronary bypass surgery, balloon angioplasty, or death.

The findings that women in jobs with high demand and low control are at risk echo UK research on Civil Servants (The Whitehall studies). The first Whitehall Study compared mortality of people in the highly stratified environment of the British Civil Service over a 10 year period starting in 1967. It showed that among British civil servants, mortality was 3 times higher among those in the lower grade when compared to the higher grade. The more senior one was in the employment hierarchy, the longer one might expect to live compared to people in lower employment grades. It also found higher mortality rates due to all causes but specifically coronary heart disease for men in the lower employment grade when compared to men in higher grades.

Twenty years later, the Whitehall II study, a longitudinal, prospective cohort study of 10,308 women and men, all of whom were employed in the London offices of the British Civil Service at the time they were recruited to the study in 1985, documented a similar gradient in morbidity in women as well as men.  The studies revealed this social gradient for a range of different diseases: heart disease, some cancers, chronic lung disease, gastrointestinal disease, depression, suicide, sickness absence, back pain and general feelings of ill-health.