Two mean pointing fingers at one another while a woman puts her hands up in an attempt to stop the argument.

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Are We Becoming Ruder in the Workplace?

October 1, 2022

By Anthony Kaylin, SBAM Approved Partner ASE

…or just more sensitive?  The election of 2016 opened the doors for filters to be filed away leading many employers to re-establish their work speech policies.  However, with the pandemic and work from home, it appears that rudeness is again creeping into the workplace.  

According to workplace research by management professors Christine Pearson and Christine Porath, authors of the aptly titled book, The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility Is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It, around 95% of workers say they consistently experience incivility at work, but only 9% report it to management.  In an earlier study in 2016, they found that rudeness negatively impacted employee performance and engagement.  47% of those who were treated poorly deliberately decreased the time spent at work (sound like quiet quitting?), and 38% said they intentionally decreased the quality of their work.  Overall, 66% in the study admitted their performance declined, and 78% said they lessened their commitment to the organization.  That study showed from 1998 to 2016, rudeness reported in the workplace increased from 49% to 62%.

With work from home and the lack of physical social interaction, it appears that employees forgot their table manners.  From switching off cameras or never putting them on in meetings or using the chat function to complain while a meeting is going on to forgetting the camera is on and being unmuted, employees do not recognize their own bad behavior, yet complain of others who do.  Moreover, swearing is on the rise.   This situation isn’t just a Millennial or Generation Z issue, it is an issue for all generations in the workplace.  A person who doesn’t want to socialize with anyone in the workplace come in all ages. 

To regain normalcy, senior leaders must set the example.  It is almost like children watching their parents during mealtime – are they glued to their phones or listening to the kids telling their stories.   Same thing.  Senior leaders cannot forget they are in a fishbowl, regardless of whether remote or not, and they provide the guidance how to act in this new environment.  If they want employees to act professional in this new environment, they have to act the same way. 

Further, since the written word is most important these days, employees need to be reminded that there is a difference between communication between friends and coworkers.  Written communications with wayward punctuation, misspellings, abbreviations, and emojis might invoke disdain, anger, or lack of respect since the employee isn’t taking the time to communicate “properly.” A recipient might conclude that the writer has no understanding of grammar, or at the worst, take offense from what is written. A sloppy email might infer that the person in the “to” field is not important to take time to proofread at minimum. 

Rudeness isn’t just based on personal interaction with the coworkers.  Ghosting has long been going on.  Often considered with recruiting, ghosting also occurs within the organization. Such as emails not responded to in a timely manner.  In an external setting, employers set the table when they fail to respond to applicants and then complain when applicants return the favor.  And then there are the job jumpers – here today then leaving, at times with no notice, tomorrow. 

As the office return is becoming more prevalent, HR should step up and begin re-establishing the ground rules for good behavior between coworkers, whether in office, hybrid, or remote.  It will be extremely important with some contentious elections coming up soon.

HR should be proactive and have trainings dedicated to re-establishing office etiquette.  Soft skills especially should be emphasized from listening to presenting to writing emails. 

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