Tired of crude remarks around the office water cooler? They could be catching.
A new study finds that sarcasm, insults and other rude behaviors can be contagious in the workplace.
Employees treated with disrespect are likely to lose self-control and behave in rude or offensive ways themselves, researchers found.
“Basically, incivility begets incivility,” said study author Chris Rosen, a professor of management at the University of Arkansas.
“And our findings verify that these contagion effects occur within very short, even daily cycles,” he said in a university news release.
Rosen and his colleagues advise executives not to ignore this type of negative office behavior since it’s probably taking a toll on companies’ bottom line.
“Estimates are that workplace incivility has doubled over the past two decades and on average costs companies about $14,000 per employee annually because of loss of production and work time,” Rosen said.
For the study, researchers asked 70 employees a series of questions for 10 workdays in a row. The employees also completed tasks that allowed the researchers to assess how rude behavior affects their productivity as well as corporate culture.
The researchers found that employees who face impolite or offensive behavior have more mental fatigue. This wears down self-control, and makes these workers more likely to lash out at their colleagues in a similarly rude way as the day goes on.
The study authors said these so-called “incivility spirals” weren’t intentional. They usually occurred in “political” workplaces where employees put their own interests ahead of the organization.
The researchers noted that corporate executives and managers can minimize rudeness in the workplace by providing clear feedback in daily interactions or performance evaluations about the types of behavior that are considered acceptable and preferred.
The study was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides more information on civility and respect in the workplace.