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Out of Our Minds
Thursday, March 09, 2006 7:35 PM
Rude Workplaces Are All the Rage
David Batstone on Business

You have heard of road rage - the behavior of unstable motorists who react to adversity on the roadway with all the aplomb of a toddler. How do you respond when similar rude and aggressive actions get played out at work?

As job stress mounts, rude behavior at the workplace is becoming altogether too common. Sometimes the rage culture is set by a manager who chooses not to treat his or her employees with common respect. I was a guest at a sales meeting not long ago where the manager berated his sales staff for missing their targets. 'If your marriage is not in trouble, it's probably because you are not spending enough time on the road doing your job!' he yelled at top volume. While my jaw dropped to the ground at such naked disrespect, the members of the sales team shifted in their chairs uncomfortably.

Rudeness can raise its ugly head at every level of an organization. I worked in an office once where the administrative assistant to a manager - who performed mostly a secretarial role - terrorized the rest of the staff. She responded in such a belligerent way to most every request that we did everything possible to avoid her. I had to laugh at myself one day when I realized that I was doing part of her job; it was just easier to do it myself than prepare myself for an epic emotional battle over, say, photocopying.

No one likes a verbal lashing. But I find that the worst rudeness at work takes place over email. Workers at all levels take license to write things to their co-workers that they would hesitate to say face-to-face. The aggressiveness of the message typically amplifies over digital channels. \n\nNo one should tolerate rudeness and disrespect at work. If tolerated, the enterprise will face a high cost in lower morale and productivity among the staff.\n\nChristine Porath, a professor of management at the Marshall School of Business (USC), does research on the impact of rude behavior in the workplace. Over 90% of the nearly 3000 employees that Porath has surveyed claim experiencing incivility on the job. Of these, 50% report that they lost work time worrying about the incident, 50% contemplated changing jobs to avoid a reoccurence, and 25% cut back their efforts on the job. \n\nManagers above all should take responsibility for nurturing a respectful culture. It starts with their own behavior, personally acknowledging employees who cross their path during the course of a day. They also set the tone in how they conduct work meetings and manage team projects. In concert with showing leadership, managers need to intervene whenever they see rudeness expressed on the job. A simple 'We don't treat each other like that here' at times can get the message across. At other times a rude worker needs to be called in for an attitude adjustment. Ongoing incivility cannot be tolerated\n\nBut it's not the managers task alone to be the nice police. The minders of the corporate culture can go over best practices with their colleagues that reduce work rage. Sure, it's partly a matter of convenience to write a worker an email rather than walk across the other side of the floor. But if the message involved personal matters, including conflict at work, it is much better to engage work peers in a face-to-face conversation. Email is wonderful for logistics and reporting, but it's lousy for respectful dialogue. \n\nIf rude behavior is allowed to flourish at an enterprise, talented people who have self-respect will start heading for the door. Professor Porath found that one in eight workers who were rudely treated by a co-worker left their jobs shortly thereafter. The only workers who stay in a rude workplace are the rage rovers.\n

1 comment

Gary Bourgeault - 3/12/2006 6:12:49 PM
When you talk about this I'm reminded of something Peter Drucker wrote about concerning there being too much animosity within a business between employees, he said that if there is too many problems, there are probably too many employees.

I know this may sound too simple but if there are so many things to do, how could there be this much time to write all these negative things in the epidemic portions you're mentioning?


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