The cost of bad behavior affects the bottom line

Rudeness at work is rampant, and it’s on the rise. In 2011, half of the workers surveyed by Professors Christine Porath of Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and Christine Pearson of Thunderbird School of Global Management said they were treated rudely at least once a week - up from a quarter in 1998. New research from Porath and Pearson shows the tangible cost of this bad behavior.

Through a poll of 800 managers and employees in 17 industries, Porath and Pearson discovered just how people’s reactions play out. Among workers who’ve been on the receiving end of incivility:

  • 48% intentionally decreased their work effort
  • 47% intentionally decreased the time spent at work
  • 38% intentionally decreased the quality of their work
  • 80% lost work time worrying about the incident
  • 63% lost work time avoiding the offender
  • 66% said that their performance declined
  • 78% said that their commitment to the organization declined
  • 12% said that they left their job because of the uncivil treatment
  • 25% admitted to taking their frustration out on customers

Experiments and other reports offer additional insights about the effects of incivility. Here are some examples of what can happen.

1) Creativity suffers - In an experiment conducted with Amir Erez, a professor of management at the University of Florida, participants who were treated rudely by other subjects were 30% less creative than others in the study.

2) Performance and team spirit deteriorate - Survey results and interviews indicate that simply witnessing incivility has negative consequences. In one experiment, witnesses to incivility were less likely than others to help out, even when the person they’d be helping had no apparent connection to the uncivil person.

3) Customers turn away - According to a survey of 244 consumers, disrespectful behavior by employees makes people uncomfortable, and they’re quick to walk out without making a purchase.

4) Managing incidents is expensive - According to a study conducted by Accountemps and reported in Fortune, managers and executives at Fortune 1,000 firms spend 13% percent of their work time—the equivalent of seven weeks a year—mending employee relationships and otherwise dealing with the aftermath of incivility.

For more on this research and to find out what leaders can do to tame incivility in the workplace, check out the full version of this article in the Jan./Feb. 2013 edition of Harvard Business Review.