Bad manners undermine morale

Jun 29 2007 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Amid signs that an epidemic of rudeness and bad manners is infecting our working environments, researchers have confirmed that colleagues or mangers who are rude and undermining can have a demonstrable negative impact on employee engagement and productivity.

That's according to Dr Barbara Griffin, from the University of Western Sydney in Australia, who used data from Hewitt Associates' Best Employer Survey of more than 54,000 employees from 179 organisations across Australia and New Zealand.

What she found was that one in five employees experience a significant incident of bad manners at work once a month.

"Rude and undermining colleagues are those who question your judgement, exclude you from situations, interrupt when you are speaking, make derogatory comments, withhold information or belittle your ideas," said Dr Griffin, an organisational psychologist.

"This behaviour is more subtle and diffuse than outright bullying, which is targeted and occurs more frequently.

"But, it still has a large impact on employee engagement, including whether you stay in an organisation, speak positively about your job or go that extra mile. It can also cause psychological distress and poor physical health.

"Our study showed that even the occasional rude comment is enough to lower engagement and make you feel less committed to your job."

Dr Griffin said the research has widespread implications for businesses.

"We know that poor employee engagement affects productivity and customer satisfaction, as well as increases staff turnover, she explained.

"Senior management can address the problem by modelling good behaviour and creating an atmosphere where people feel they are being treated fairly. Having procedures in place to manage rude behaviour and ensuring these policies are clear to all employees is also vital."

Quite what passes for rudeness in the workplace, however, is a moot point. For example, UK research has found that two thirds of office workers admit to being regularly late for meetings and also think it is acceptable to answer mobile phone calls during meetings or send text messages while in conversation with someone else.

Swearing, meanwhile, might be positively beneficial. A 2004 New Zealand study found that swearing can actually help boost team morale in certain settings. Swearing and complaining can be an emotional release and a way of establishing a rapport with others, it suggested.

But what should you do if you find the behaviour of others offensive? Dr Griffin says in the first instance, do not reciprocate. Reacting with similar actions can quickly spiral into increasingly aggressive behaviours.

Second, if circumstances permit, try to talk to the other person and tell them that you find their behaviour offensive.

If that fails or the situation worsens, it is important to understand your organisation's policies and procedures and it may be necessary to up the issue in an official manner.