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Build Your Career Office Life

Rudeness at Work Takes a Physical, Mental and Emotional Toll

Rudeness at Work Takes a Physical, Mental and Emotional Toll
Credit: Fizkes/Shutterstock

Being treated poorly in the workplace doesn't just take a psychological toll; it also can have a physical impact as well, new research finds.

A study recently published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior discovered that being the constant target of rude behavior at work has far-reaching effects.

Specifically, victims of incivility, which, in addition to rude behavior, can include being ignored or being put down, often feel embarrassed and that they don't fit in in their organization. Additionally, they also suffer from stomach problems, sleeplessness and headaches.

Sandy Hershcovis, the study's lead researcher and an associate professor at the University of Calgary, said the negative symptoms of being treated poorly at work can last for as many as three days after the rude behavior occurred. [See Related Story: Work Bully Victims Struggle with Dangerous Stress]

“The most significant finding is that even low-level forms of mistreatment, such as incivility, can embarrass targets, and can also threaten their feelings of belongingness, which affects both their feeling of job security and their physical well-being," Hershcovis said in a statement. "Moreover, these negative consequences can persist for an average of three days after they occurred."

The problems can be even worse when the rude behavior comes from someone in charge.

"It's also important to note that incivility is more embarrassing when it comes from someone who is powerful, and that the powerful exacerbate the already negative effects of incivility," Hershcovis said.

The research was based on two studies of full-time employees in North America who had experienced this type of rude behavior while at work.

The study's authors said their research is further confirmation that employers need to take steps to curb incivility in the workplace.

“One of the findings of our study is that incivility may make people question their value to the organization," Hershcovis said. "It's important for management to regularly reinforce people's value to the organization so that when employees inevitably experience incivility, they won’t be as threatened by it."

Hershcovis believes those around the office who see rude behavior taking place can play a big role in helping the victims cope with the situation.

“Our findings also show that employees are embarrassed when they are treated uncivilly, which implies that they care what witnesses think," she said. "This suggests an important role for witnesses, who can help targets by providing social support that help employees feel less isolated."

The study was coauthored by Babatunde Ogunfowora, associate professor at the University of Calgary; Amy Christie, an associate professor at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada; and Tara Reich, an assistant professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science. The study was supported by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer who has nearly 15 years' experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.