According to the researchers, such rude behaviour is common at a politically-charged workplace and this incivility is fast spreading.
Experiencing such rude behaviour reduces employees’ self-control and leads them to act in a similar uncivil manner, say Russell Johnson and colleagues from Michigan State University. “People who are recipients of incivility at work feel mentally fatigued because uncivil behaviours are somewhat ambiguous and require employees to figure out whether there was any abusive intent,” said Johnson, associate professor of management.
“This mental fatigue, in turn, led them to act uncivil toward other workers. In other words, they paid the incivility forward,” he noted in a paper which appeared in the Journal of Applied Psychology.
While curt remarks and other forms of incivility do not involve openly hostile behaviour such as bullying and threats, they are a frequent occurrence in the workplace and have a significant effect on employees.
For the study, 70 employees filled out a survey relating to incivility and its effects three times a day for 10 consecutive workdays. Interestingly, the researchers found that “incivility spirals” - when acts of incivility lead to subsequent acts of incivility - can occur unintentionally.
“When employees are mentally fatigued, it is more difficult for them to keep their negative impulses and emotions in check, which leads them to be condescending and rude to colleagues,” Johnson noted.
The study also found that incivility spirals occurred in workplaces that were perceived as political (where co-workers “do what is best for them, not what is best for the organisation”).
“Being the victim of incivility leaves employees depleted because they must expend energy to understand why they were targeted and how to respond,” the study stated.
One way to reduce perceptions of politics, the study says, is by providing clear feedback to employees regarding the types of behaviours that are desired, the authors wrote.