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Uncivil behaviours at the workplace — put-downs, sarcasm and other condescending comments — tend to have a contagious effect, according to a new study.
The study was conducted by Chris Rosen at University of Arkansas; Russell Johnson at Michigan State University; Allison Gabriel at the University of Arizona; and Joel Koopman at the University of Cincinnati.
The researchers surveyed 70 employees – three times a day for 10 consecutive workdays. The employees answered questions and completed performance-based tasks that allowed the researchers to study how and why acts of incivility are contagious in organisations.
The researchers found that experiencing rude behaviour increased mental fatigue. This resulted in reduced self-control of employees, which led them to act in a similar, uncivil manner later in the day.
These “incivility spirals” occurred unintentionally and predominantly in workplaces that were perceived as “political,” which was defined as an environment where workers do what is best for them and not best for the organisation.
Survey co-author Rosen said: “Basically, incivility begets incivility. And our findings verify that these contagion effects occur within very short, even daily cycles.”
“And it’s probably costing companies a lot more money. Estimates are that workplace incivility has doubled over the past two decades and on average costs companies about $14,000 per employee annually because of loss of production and work time.”
The study noted that while uncivil behaviours are less serious than openly hostile behaviour such as bullying, harassment and threats, uncivil behaviours are more frequent in the workplace.
So what can employers do about it? Reduce perceptions of politics at work.
The researchers suggested that managers provide clear feedback to employees on the types of desired behaviours. This can be done even informally, by enhancing the quality of feedback in day-to-day interactions, or formally through performance evaluations.
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