Does rudeness in the office generate a way of life that is contagious and spreads like a disease?
Scientists have found that incivility in the office and harmless gossip could, they said, foster an atmosphere in which there is a culture of bullying, fear or all-user emails complaining about the washing up.
For two studies from Sewden’s Lund University almost six thousand workers were surveyed about rudeness. The scientists were interested in whether there was a link between being uncivil in the office and experiencing incivility – and also in the general social climate of the workplace.
Could the sort of office where people have no qualms about leaving a smelly cycling kit under a desk also be the sort where people get excluded from work drinks or ostracised in the canteen?
The research, half of which was published in the journal Biomed Research International, found it did.
‘Witnessing co-worker incivility was the most important dimension to explain instigated incivility,’ the researchers write. ‘Or, put it another way, rudeness spreads like a disease. This was specially worrying given that three-quarters of those surveyed claimed to have experienced rudeness in the preceding year.’
Eva Torkelson said that one particular finding of their research pointed to the self-perpetuating nature of workplace rudeness – that it can somehow help, rather than hinder socially.
‘Those who behave rudely in the workplace experience stronger social support, which probably makes them less afraid of negative reactions to their behaviour from managers,’ she said. ‘Ultimately, the only way to stop behaviour that is often considered harmless is to show people what it leads to. When people become aware of the actual consequences of rudeness, it is an eye-opener.’
However, in my own view – having experienced rudeness that can be comically uplifting and rather cleverly administered – it can sometimes be endearing rather than off-putting.
They call it eccentricity.