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Rudeness at Work

The Rampant Rise of Rudeness

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
- Steve Jobs US computer engineer & industrialist (1955 - 2011)

Over the last 14 years, thousands of workers have been polled on how they’re treated on the job—and a whopping 98% have reported experiencing uncivil behavior. In 2011, half said they were treated rudely at least once a week, up from 25% in 1998.

These startling facts were published in “The Price of Incivility”, a January-February 2013 Harvard Business Review article by Professors Christine Porath and Christine Pearson.

After polling 800 managers and employees in 17 industries, Porath and Pearson learned how people’s reactions play out. Among workers who have been on the receiving end of incivility:

  • 48% intentionally decreased their work effort.
  • 47% intentionally decreased the time spent at work.
  • 38% intentionally decreased the quality of their work.
  • 80% lost work time worrying about the incident.
  • 63% lost work time avoiding the offender.
  • 66% said their performance declined.
  • 78% said their commitment to the organization declined.
  • 12% said they left their job because of the uncivil treatment.
  • 25% admitted to taking their frustration out on customers.

Rudeness Realities

Rudeness, whether verbal or behavioral, greatly contributes to deteriorating team spirit and poor performance.

Joel H. Neuman, director of the Center for Applied Management at the State University of New York at New Paltz, cites several common examples:

  • Talking about someone behind his or her back
  • Interrupting others when they’re speaking or working
  • Flaunting status or authority; acting in a condescending manner
  • Belittling someone’s opinion to others
  • Being late to meetings; failing to return phone calls or respond to memos
  • Giving others the silent treatment
  • Insults, yelling and shouting
  • Verbal forms of sexual harassment
  • Staring, dirty looks or other negative eye contact

While it’s truly overbearing to work for a boss who barks orders and belittles employees, most rude behaviors occur between coworkers. The more subtle and malicious forms of rudeness include gossiping, backstabbing, spreading rumors and sabotaging others’ work.

Poor Team Spirit

Simply witnessing incivility has negative consequences.

In one experiment, people who had observed poor behavior performed 20% worse on word puzzles. Witnesses to incivility were less likely than others to help out, even when a colleague had no apparent connection to the uncivil act.

Lower Creativity

People are 30% less creative when they’re treated rudely, according to an experiment conducted by Amir Erez, a University of Florida management professor. Subjects produced 25% fewer ideas, and their suggestions tended to be less original.

Rudeness Repels Customers

Consumers are uncomfortable when exposed to rudeness, whether it’s waiters berating busboys or managers criticizing store clerks. Disrespectful behavior causes many patrons to walk out without making a purchase.

In one experiment, half of the participants witnessed a bank representative publicly reprimanding a peer for incorrectly handling credit-card information. Only 20% of those who saw the encounter said they would use the bank’s services in the future (compared with 80% of customers who didn’t see the interaction.

Managing Rudeness Is Expensive

HR professionals say that just one incident can soak up weeks of attention and effort. According to a study conducted by Accountemps and reported in Fortune, managers and executives at Fortune 1000 firms spend 13% of their work time, or 7 weeks a year, mending employee relationships and dealing with incivility’s aftermath. Costs soar, of course, when consultants or attorneys must be brought in to help settle a situation.

The Leadership Solution

Leaders must be aware of the company’s culture: Does it consciously or unconsciously allow for bad behavior? It’s the manager’s job to set limits on work behavior, enforce standards and policies, and deal with difficult employees in a positive way (early, so negative feelings cannot fester).

Examine your organizational culture by checking with the human resources department for complaints of unfair treatment or stress and disability claims. Look for patterns within a department.  Rudeness and workplace incivility can be responses to frustration, fear and uncertainty in high-stress work organizations.  

What Leaders Can Do

The two main strategies for reducing rudeness are relatively straightforward:

  1. Stay physically and mentally healthy.
  2. Model the right behavior.

Identify strategies that boost your energy level. Take stock of your purpose, passions and positive strengths to become more robust and resilient. Common habits that improve resilience include regular exercise, eating well and getting enough rest. It’s also essential to develop supportive relationships and outside interests.

Incorporate the following strategies to foster civility:  

  • Manage Your Own Behavior. Leaders set the tone, so be aware of your actions and how others perceive you. What you say and do is weighted and easily magnified. Model good behavior (actions and words). In one survey, 25% of managers who admitted to behaving badly said their leaders and role models were rude.
  • Express Appreciation. People need to know they’re valued. Be alert for what they do right, and let them know you’ve noticed their hard work and progress.
  • Recognize Small Achievements.Making progress on meaningful work is the most energizing and motivating event an information worker can experience, note Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer in TheProgress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work(Harvard Business Review Press, 2011). Effective leaders acknowledge even small improvements on a regular basis.
  • Establish a Positive Culture. Employees with a positive mood are 31% more productive, sell 37% more and are 300% more creative, notes business consultant Shawn Achor in “Positive Intelligence(Harvard Business Review, February 2012.

Are you working in a company where executive coaches provide leadership development to grow emotionally intelligent leaders? Does your organization provide executive coaching for leaders who need to inspire a collaborative vision? Sustainable leaders tap into their emotional intelligence and social intelligence skills to create a more fulfilling future.

One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself is “Does our company culture consciously or unconsciously allow for bad behavior?” Emotionally intelligent and socially intelligent organizations provide executive coaching as part of their transformational high performance leadership development program.

Working with a seasoned executive coach and leadership consultant trained in emotional intelligence and incorporating assessments such as the Bar-On EQ-I, CPI 260 and Denison Culture Survey can help you leaders must be aware of the company’s culture that consciously or unconsciously allows for bad behavior. You can become a leader who models emotional intelligence and social intelligence, and who inspires people to become fully engaged with the vision, mission and strategy of your company or law firm.

Working Resources is a San Francisco Bay Area Executive Coaching Firm Helping  Innovative Companies Assess, Select, Coach and Retain Emotionally Intelligent Leaders; Strategic Talent Management; Leadership Development; Competency Modeling; Succession Management; and Leadership & Team Building Retreats

About Dr. Maynard Brusman

Dr. Maynard Brusman is a consulting psychologist, executive coach and trusted advisor to senior leadership teams. He is the president of Working Resources, a leadership consulting and executive coaching firm. We specialize in helping San Francisco Bay Area companies and law firms assess, select, coach, and retain emotionally intelligent leaders.  Maynard is a highly sought-after speaker and workshop leader. He facilitates leadership retreats in Northern California and Costa Rica. The Society for Advancement of Consulting (SAC) awarded Dr. Maynard Brusman "Board Approved" designations in the specialties of Executive Coaching and Leadership Development.

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