By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Program Director, Management at American Public University
When I was in the human resources field and I wanted to understand why someone would exhibit rude behavior in the workplace, I would call one of my best friends who is a clinical psychologist. I wanted her to give me the official term for the dysfunctional behavior I saw at work.
One area that I have always considered to be offensive is rude behavior among employees. Why do they do that? Are they so unhappy that they cannot be civil to one another?
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After all, you don’t have to like everyone that you work with. However, you do need to be respectful toward others, especially if you want to be viewed as a professional.
Employers should be alarmed at unprofessional acts that are devoid of proper workplace etiquette. If not for the social norms of society, consider the monetary value of ensuring that your employees “play nice.”
Why Is Rudeness in the Workplace Harmful?
Workplace rudeness often tends to be subtle. As a result, inappropriate behavior might fly under the radar and fall into the category of borderline harassment. Your employees may internalize rude acts throughout the day, allowing bitter feelings and resentment to build up toward their managers or coworkers.
New York writer Jennifer Breheny Wallace writes in Cetnusnews that “a growing body of research suggests that rudeness can harm an employee’s well-being and job performance.” She also says, “Rudeness can even be contagious.” Rude behavior can spread throughout your organization because one person’s actions can adversely affect employees throughout various departments.
A survey cited in the Harvard School of Business magazine asked workers why they were rude to other people. Over 60% of the respondents said that they didn’t have time to be nice.
What does that mean? Are they overwhelmed with life? Are they juggling so many balls that it is hard to focus on civility? Are people so stressed they cannot take the time to be pleasant to one another?
Not having enough time to be civil is a cop-out. Do not allow your employees to use it as an excuse.
Workplace Rudeness Can Cost Employers up to $14,000 per Employee
Rudeness fosters unproductive and unfocused employees. Some employees might be distracted from their responsibilities and internalize the hurt feelings that result from a rude comment.
They could also become obsessed with getting revenge for the hurt that the rudeness engendered. Either way, there is a loss of productivity in the workforce.
The same Harvard Business Review article reported that researchers at Michigan State University found that workplace incivility costs employers approximately $14,000 per employee due to loss of productivity and work time.
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Workplace Rudeness Negatively Affects Your Customers’ Behavior and Costs You Money
Workplace rudeness can affect your bottom line if a rude employee transmits that negativity to your customers. It’s the domino effect.
Dr. Christine Porath, an associate professor of management at Georgetown University, and Christine Pearson, a professor of global leadership at the Thunderbird School of Global Management, have noted the high cost of rude workplace behavior. They reported in the Harvard Business Review article, “The Price of Incivility,” that 25% of employees admitted taking out their frustration on customers, either intentionally or unintentionally.
In addition, when your customers witness uncivil behavior among your employees, they often decide to cut their ties to the company. When I was caught in the uncomfortable situation of witnessing rude employees a few times, I simply left the establishment without purchasing anything.
Dr. Porath’s research also suggests that customers who witness incivility are four times more likely to take their business elsewhere. By tolerating rude employees, you not only will have employee productivity issues, but you will lose revenue that you might not be able to recapture. Once customers are gone, they usually do not come back.
Dealing with Workplace Rudeness
Companies can combat rude workplace behavior by dealing with it as soon as it occurs. Do not allow rude employees to get away with their behavior or excuse it as “that’s just how they are.”
Instead, create policies and value statements that underscore zero tolerance for uncivility in the workplace. Empower employees to address inappropriate behavior on the spot as it occurs. Peer policing is very effective.
About the Author
Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Program Director of Management at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.
Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and strong leader, manifesting people skills, a methodical approach to problems, organizational vision and ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.