How Can You Be So Rude!?

Topic: Job Performance, Work Environment, Culture
Publication: Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes (MAY 2009)
Article: Overlooked but not untouched: How rudeness reduces onlookers’ on routine and creative tasks
Authors: Porath, C. L. and Erez, A.
Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger

Now here’s a topic that might make you ball your fists: Rudeness in the workplace. Have you ever been treated rudely by a coworker or supervisor?  Have you ever seen rude behavior at work? If so, you are not alone. Perhaps as many as 25% of employees report witnessing rudeness on a daily basis (For some reason, the DMV crosses my mind).

One intriguing idea that may not have crossed your mind is that rudeness not only adversely impacts the victims, but onlookers as well. To explore this idea, Porath and Erez (2009) conducted three experiments to find out if and how witnessing rudeness affects employees’ task performance, citizenship behaviors (going above and beyond what is required at work), and creative performance.

Interestingly, the results of studies one and two suggest that witnessing either a supervisor or peer exhibit rudeness to another had a negative impact on the onlookers’ performance. Specifically, compared to those in the control groups (witnessed no rudeness), those who witnessed rude behavior performed less well on a creative task and reduced their citizenship behaviors (e.g., helpfulness).

In the third study, Porath and Erez found that the effect of witnessing rudeness depends on the competitive context. That is, when onlookers were in competition for resources with a peer, witnessing that peer being treated rudely did not have as strong an effect on performance as opposed to a cooperative context. In other words, witnessing a competitor being treated rudely doesn’t bother us so much.

All in all, Porath and Erez’s results suggest that simply witnessing rudeness at work can negatively impact employees’ performance (scary, right?). At the very least, these findings should be a warning to organizational leaders that rudeness within the workplace can be even more detrimental to the workforce than they might have thought.

Porath, C.L. & Erez, A. (2009). Overlooked but not untouched: How rudeness reduces onlookers’ on routine and creative tasks. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 109, 29-44.