Workplace Rudeness Can Affect Partner's Job, Too

By SHRM Online staff Aug 22, 2011
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What happens at work doesn’t always stay at work, according to a new study from Baylor University that found that the fallout from workplace rudeness and incivility also impacts a worker’s home life and can create a ripple effect that crosses into a significant other’s workplace.

Rudeness at work is a research topic that seems to be popping up everywhere.

A study presented in August 2011 at the Academy of Management annual meetingpurported that disagreeable workers in North America tend to make more money than their more agreeable colleagues.

Another, presented the same month at the American Psychological Association annual meeting, found that incivility is a growing problem in the workplace.

The August 2011 online issue of the Journal of Organizational Behavior included a study by different researchers looking at The Employee as a Punching Bag: The Effect of Multiple Sources of Incivility on Employee Withdrawal Behavior and Sales Performance.

Now, You Cannot Leave It At the Office: The Spillover and Crossover of Coworker Incivility, by Baylor University assistant professor Merideth J. Ferguson, suggests that workplace rudeness not only can disrupt home life but also can spread to the partner’s work environment.

There are important practical implications for organizations and their leaders, according to Ferguson, who in her report noted the “growing evidence of incivility’s negative impact on organization outcomes.

Far-Reaching Effects

“Unlike the study of incivility's effects at work, the study of its impact on the family is in its infancy. However, these findings emphasize the notion that organizations must realize the far-reaching effects of co-worker incivility and its impact on employees and their families,” Ferguson said in an Aug. 16, 2011, news release.

She teaches management and entrepreneurship at Baylor’s school of business and holds a doctorate and master of business administration degree in human resource management from Vanderbilt University.

While the “punching bag” research suggested decreased sales performance and increased absenteeism and tardiness among workers in an environment of customer and co-worker rudeness, Ferguson looked at the impact of co-worker rudeness after the employee returns home for the day.

That impact, she suggested, stretches to the worker’s children, friends, parents and partner. It can even hamper marital bliss, according to Ferguson.

“Employees who experience such incivility at work bring home the stress, negative emotion and perceived ostracism that results from those experiences, which then affect more than their family life.” These issues also create “problems for the partner's life at work,” she stated.

What happens, she theorized in her paper, is that the person who has been the target of workplace rudeness “comes home more stressed and distracted, [and] the partner is likely to pick up more of the family responsibilities,” and the increased demands at home on the partner’s time might cross over into the partner’s work life.

Her findings are from 190 full-time workers and their employed partners who completed separate online surveys; each combined couple response constituted one complete response.

About 57 percent of the employees surveyed were male, with an average age of 36. Forty-three percent of the partners surveyed were male, with an average age of 35. Seventy-five percent of the couples had children living with them.

Ferguson’s paper appeared in the same online August 2011 issue of the Journal of Organizational Behavior as the “punching bag” paper.

Her findings, she wrote in her report, “emphasize the notion that organizations must realize the far-reaching effects of co-worker incivility and its impact on employees and their families.Organizations should take an active role in discouraging incivility in the workplace by encouraging management to model appropriate behavior and setting clear expectations about what is and is not acceptable behavior among colleagues.”

Related Article:

When It Comes to Pay, Do Nice Guys Finish Last? SHRM Online Compensation Discipline, August 2011

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