Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Rudeness at Work: Impulse over Restraint

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Rudeness at Work: Impulse over Restraint

Article excerpt

Office rudeness is on the rise. Catcalls, disparaging remarks whispered behind closed doors, and raging e-mails are testaments to the fact that many of us are overworked and stressed out. While much has been written about violence in the workplace, it is often the small and subtle egregious acts, the little incivilities, that take the largest toll.

Rudeness is at the low end of the continuum of workplace abuse; workplace rudeness isn't violence or harassment or even open conflict, although it can build up to any of those things. Links between the work environment and indicators of employee loyalty, commitment, and productivity show this is not a "fluff" issue. In addition, a recent study on workplace incivility reveals that rude employees and managers can cost a company millions of dollars a year. This paper will give some background on rudeness at work, identify the kinds and causes of poor behavior, enumerate the costs to organizations, and discuss what employers can do to reduce rudeness at work.

The literature on organizational effectiveness is replete with the extremes of organizational citizenship, high-performance teams, intrinsic motivation, and organizational cultures that evoke the best in people on one end of the effectiveness bar, while workplace violence, employee theft, and sabotage lie at the other end. An intriguing question beginning to emerge in the literature is: What is the intersecting point between these two extremes? A growing number of studies suggest that the presence or absence of rudeness at work is a key indicator of an organization's potential to shift toward the high or low end of the effectiveness bar.

Rudeness is at the low end of the continuum of workplace abuse. Workplace rudeness isn't violence or harassment or even open conflict, although it can build up to any of those things. Links between the work environment and indicators of employee loyalty, commitment, and productivity show this is not a "fluff" issue. In addition, a recent study on workplace incivility reveals that rude employees and managers can cost a company millions of dollars a year. This paper will give some background on rudeness at work, identify the kinds and causes of poor behavior, enumerate the costs to organizations, and describe what employers can do to reduce rudeness at work.

Background

Many people feel overworked, stressed out, and pushed to the max. The result is that unpleasant occurrences that leave us angry and willing to vent that anger on each other are going on in offices today. Ego-crushing e-mail messages are sent, catcalls occur at the conference table, and disparaging remarks are whispered in the hallway. While much has been written about workplace violence, it is often the subtle things at the office that can take the biggest toll. In addition, budget cuts, management changes, the incessant demands of instantaneous electronic communication, and other tension-producing factors can increase office hostility.

Yet, office hostility often can be both overt and covert, much like Oscar Wilde's character, Dorian Gray. On the surface, some companies look like simply lovely places to work--proactive, synergistic, and "outside the box." But somewhere inside, underneath the curtain, there is that darn portrait, growing more ugly, decrepit and deceitful.[1] We are now a culture that celebrates impulse over restraint, notoriety over achievement, rule breaking over rule keeping and incendiary expression over minimal civility. Each week brings new benchmarks of incivility and rudeness in the workplace.[2]

Not surprisingly, it is not long before rudeness can rise to the level of abuse. For example, two workers were filing papers together in a small cubicle and bumped into each other, which escalated into an exchange of insults and then punches. Corporate security guards had to break up the fight.[3] Then there was a senior officer at a bank who threw an ashtray at a subordinate who irritated him. …

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