HR Tip: Incivility at work begets incivility to co-workers: study

Lack of civil behavior in the workplace can cause employees to experience mental fatigue and strike back, with negative consequences for employees’ well-being and companies’ bottom-lines, according to a study from Michigan State University. Researchers tested how experiencing incivility precipitates instigating incivility towards others at work via reduced self-control.

People who are recipients of incivility at work feel mentally fatigued and lack the energy to suppress terse or impatient responses to colleagues. It is primarily a problem in work environments that are perceived to be political, when intentions and motives are less clear.

To combat incivility spirals, which can cost employers an estimated $14,000 per worker annually in lost workdays and lost productivity, researchers said employers should provide clear feedback about appropriate workplace behaviors. This can be accomplished informally by enhancing the quality of feedback provided during day-to-day interactions, as well as formally through the performance management process.

The findings also may have ramifications for worker safety. According to NIOSH documents, although more research is needed, “there is a growing concern that stressful working conditions interfere with safe work practices and set the stage for injuries at work.”

The study was published in June in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

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