Rude Behavior at Work Is Contagious … And Bad for Business

By Chad Brooks, Business News Daily Senior Writer  

Being rude to a co-worker can have a significant negative impact on your entire office, new research finds.

Workers who face rude behavior from a boss or peer are more likely to perceive rudeness in future dealings with co-workers, which in turn makes them more likely to be impolite in return, according to a University of Florida study.

“When you experience rudeness, it makes rudeness more noticeable,” Trevor Foulk, the study’s lead author and a doctoral student in management at the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business Administration, said in a statement. “You’ll see more rudeness even if it’s not there.”

While rude behavior by employees may seem innocuous, it can be extremely damaging to a business, Foulk said.

“Part of the problem is that we are generally tolerant of these behaviors, but they’re actually really harmful,” he said. “Rudeness has an incredibly powerful negative effect on the workplace.”

The researchers also discovered that even employees who simply witness rude behavior at work are more likely to be discourteous to others. In a second experiment, study participants watched a video of a rude workplace exchange and then answered a fictitious customer email that was neutral in tone.

The researchers found that these participants were more likely to be hostile in their responses than those who viewed a polite interaction before responding.

“That tells us that rudeness will flavor the way you interpret ambiguous cues,” Foulk said.

Foulk hopes the study will encourage employers to take rude behavior in the workplace more seriously.

“It isn’t something you can just turn your back on,” Foulk said. “It matters.”

The study, co-authored by University of Florida management professor Amir Erez and doctoral student Andrew Woolum, was recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

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