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98% cite rudeness at work

Are employers responsible for civility — and can they really enforce it?

By Rich_Maloof Aug 28, 2013 4:18PM

btrenkel/Getty Images As the state of the economy leaves fewer employees doing more work for less money, with a reduction in resources to boot, the prevalence of rudeness in the workplace appears to be on the rise. Findings from an ongoing study indicate that a full 98 percent of workers report experiences of uncivil behavior at work.

Two researchers from Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business have been studying the impact of growing incivility in the workplace for 15 years and have surveyed thousands of people. With a long-term window on workplace histories, they’ve tracked a downward spiral of decency and friendliness. Back in 1998, for example, a quarter of all surveyed subjects said they were treated rudely at least once a week; in 2011, half of all workers lodged the same complaint.

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Workplace rudeness is rampant today, say professors Christine Porath and Christine Pearson, and takes all shapes. It’s the boss who belittles his employees’ efforts and blames them for poor results. It’s the foul-mouthed oaf spoiling lunch hour, and the surly assistant with an acid tongue. It’s evident in passive-aggressive emails and in water-cooler snubs.

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Porath and Pearson conclude that incivility hurts not only feelings, but productivity and ultimately the organization’s bottom line.

“We know two things for certain,” the researchers write. “Incivility is expensive, and few organizations recognize or take action to curtail it.”

Among their findings:

• 47 percent of workers on the receiving end of incivility intentionally decreased the time spent at work, and 38 percent intentionally decreased quality

• 63 percent lost work time avoiding the offender

• 78 percent said their commitment to the organization declined

• 25 percent admitted taking their frustration out on customers.

Is civility the responsibility of an employer — and if so, can managers or a human resource department really enforce it?

In an attempt to reverse rudeness trends, some companies are adding new guidelines to employee manuals. Citing the work of the Georgetown researchers, The Wall Street Journal posted 10 tips for keeping the peace at work — several of which read like rules for a kindergarten class. While it certainly seems childish, some colleagues need to work on fundamental interpersonal skills, starting with the Golden Rule. Tips include:

• In the presence of co-workers practice the 10/5 rule: Within 10 feet, acknowledge the person, and within five feet say hello.

• Instead of pointing the finger when you’ve contributed to a mistake, take responsibility — especially if you’re the leader.

• Don’t criticize people behind their backs. Never say or write anything you wouldn’t be proud to sign.

• When someone is talking to you, pay attention and listen fully; don’t half tune in or fidget with your gadget.

• Address performance or other issues in private.

• Never cut off or finish someone’s sentences (even to make a point or decision); instead, be patient and listen fully before jumping in.

• Be careful taking too much credit for collaborative work; share recognition for work well done.

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Sep 10, 2013 10:45PM
A few years ago, the boss and I made a hundred dollar bet.  He said I couldn't find a certain person and get them to pay their bill.  Within half an hour, I located the person and sent a certified letter regarding his outstanding bill.  A few days later the embarrassed recipient called and apologized saying he thought the bill had been paid and that a check was in the mail with an extra hundred bucks "for the office."  Sure enough, the bill was paid shortly after.  The office administrator gave me the boss's check for $100.00  because I won the bet.  Since collections were her area, she hated me after I won that bet and began to treat me like dirt.  Along with my other duties, I did all the office filing.  One day the administrator came into the file room, over to my desk where i was sorting things, and dropped a pile of filing on my head.  Now that was a little beyond rude.  I was speechless and now I wish I had called her on it because she treated me with total disrespect after that.
Sep 3, 2013 7:33PM

Customer Service is no longer for


Sep 3, 2013 7:31PM
OMG we are having to teach manners yet again....really?
Sep 3, 2013 1:55AM

When salespeople dressed appropriately for their positions they were respected.  I have seen gum chewing, poor grammar, from the most well dressed staff people and some of the greatest adult behavior  in the younger set that wanted to actually help an older person

I don't envy anyone today that has to deal with the rude, obnoxious public who, if anyone, is really happy dealing with animals??.  Customers are definitely on the ignorant side and they act the way they were brought up, on the street!  This is no help to the clerk and lord forbid she/he should say the wrong word.  We saw what they tried to do to Paula Dean.  It is an evil society that you retailers have to work with and I envy no one in a retail position today.  Glitz and greed are the only things the customer knows today and they show their ignorance in their "costumes" and "get-ups" that they think attractive.  It's slutsville all the way1

Sep 3, 2013 12:46AM
And they needed a study to tell us this - something that nearly everyone who is in the workforce can already tell you .  . !
Sep 3, 2013 12:38AM
Companies just can't seem to get enough "Yes-men".   "Yes-men" are also the cancer cell in the slow death of profitability as they allow crappy ideas to proliferate instead of killing them when conceived.  What happens when everyone tries to be a "Yes-man " ?  The competition is fierce and the work environment putrefies...as does the services.   Been there....still there....rudeness is just the beginning.
Sep 2, 2013 11:09PM
You finally caught on to the rudeness in the work place, HA!
Sep 2, 2013 9:17PM
With some people at work rudeness is the only thing that makes them pay attention to the facts. If ignoring a co-worker as much as possible as if they don't exist is rude then rude I am an for good reason(s). When co-workers are slackers that work really hard at shirking their duties and trying to take things and advantage of myself and other people then its high time to slap them down a rung or two. I prefer not to be a prick at work and most people agree but if you p*ss me off then yeah you can kiss my azz.
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