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Build Your Career Office Life

Rude Behavior Can Spread Like a Virus

Rude co-workers don't just affect everyone at the office — they also have a broader impact on their community through a ripple effect that can even travel to other businesses.

That's the finding of new research from Baylor University, which suggests that stress created by incivility at work can be so intense that, at the end of the day, it is taken home by the worker and impacts the well-being of the worker's family and partner, who in turn takes the stress to his or her workplace.

"Employees who experience such incivility at work bring home the stress, negative emotion and perceived ostracism that results from those experiences, which then affects more than their family life — it also creates problems for the partner's life at work," said Merideth Ferguson, assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship at the Baylor University Hankamer School of Business and study author.

"This research underlines the importance of stopping incivility before it starts so that the ripple effect of incivility does not impact the employee's family and potentially inflict further damage beyond the workplace where the incivility took place and cross over into the workplace of the partner," she said.

In addition, since the employee comes home more stressed and distracted when experiencing incivility in the workplace, the employee's partner is likely to pick up more of the family responsibilities, and those demands may interfere with the partner's work life, the study said. The study also found that such stress also significantly affected the worker's and the partner's marital satisfaction.

Ferguson said it is incumbent upon the employer to try to discourage rudeness, incivility and workplace bullying and encourage good behavior at work.

"One approach to prevent this stress might be to encourage workers to seek support through their organization's employee assistance program or other resources such as counseling or stress management so that tactics or mechanisms for buffering the effect of incivility's stress on the family can be identified," she said.

Ferguson's study is published online in the Journal of Organizational Behavior.


Jeanette Mulvey
Jeanette Mulvey

Jeanette has been writing about business for more than 20 years. She has written about every kind of entrepreneur from hardware store owners to fashion designers. Previously she was a manager of internal communications for Home Depot. Her journalism career began in local newspapers. She has a degree in American Studies from Rutgers University. Follow her on Twitter @jeanettebnd.