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The Cost of Rudeness at Work

March 24, 2017, by Corina Sibley | Work Environment and Policies

Back in the day good manners and civility were a common thread of the social fabric.  The phrase “mind your p’s and q’s” was uttered frequently by mothers.  It appears there’s more than just a good reminder in that phrase, but a bottom line benefit as well.

Researchers at Harvard University, Christine Porath and Christine Pearson, have found that rudeness is on the rise in the corporate world and it adds up to real costs for business.  In one experiment they found that participants who had been on the receiving end of rude behaviour were 30% less creative than their non-rudeness exposed counterparts.  In addition, one of their polls found the following results among employees who had experienced incivility in the workplace:

  • 80% lost work time worrying about the incident

  • 78% said that their commitment to the organization declined

  • 66% mentioned their performance declined

  • 63% lost work time avoiding the offender

  • 48% intentionally decreased their work effort

  • 47% intentionally decreased the time spent at work

  • 38% intentionally decreased the quality of their work

  • 25% took their frustrations out on customers

For those of us in the HR profession, we see the effects and costs of this every day.  One incident can take up hours of time from not only the employee’s manager, but their co-workers, department and possibly bringing in outside resources to either mediate or investigate.  The Harvard article cites a study that found Fortune 1,000 firms spend 13% of their work time on these types of incidents.  That time could be better spent on more value-added activities such as innovation, business development or new product introduction. 

The authors had the following advice for leaders on dealing with workplace rudeness:

  • Manage yourself – leaders set the tone

  • Model good behaviour (walk the talk)

  • Ask for feedback – we all have our blind spots

  • Pay attention to your progress – are you acting on that feedback?

  • Hire for civility

  • Teach civility

  • Reward good behaviour/correct bad behaviour


I encourage you to read the entire article as this is just a brief outline.  It turns out our mothers were right; manners do matter, and it’s not nice to be rude.  However I don’t think even they realized the huge costs associated with not following their sage advice.

Have you experienced or dealt with rude behaviour at work?




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