Posts Tagged ‘toxic workplace’

Study Finds Workplace Rudeness is Highly Contagious

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015

Sick woman at work drinking coffee

In today’s post, CAI’s Vice President of Membership Doug Blizzard shares the uncomfortable truth regarding the spread of negativity in the office. 

Peak flu season is still a few months away, but there’s another type of bug flying around the office that is just as contagious—and perhaps more harmful  – workplace rudeness.

Remember the old adage that if you give a smile chances are you’ll get one back?  Well, according to a new study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, rudeness is just as contagious – and in it can be more harmful because it won’t just run its course and go away on its own. The damage it does is longer lasting, even permanent if you do not do something about it.

Researchers from the University of Florida did a study of behaviors among graduate business students about behaviors that came out as they practiced their negotiating skills with classmates.  Each student practiced with several other students over a period of weeks and then the students rated each others’ behaviors. A key finding was that those who judged their partners as rude were more likely to be judged as rude themselves. In other words, rudeness was contagious.

The study showed that rudeness activates a network of closely-related concepts in individuals’ minds. This activation influences individual’s hostile behaviors.  Another interesting finding of the study is that you don’t need to be the victim of a rude act to catch the bug. Employees who simply witness a rude act are likely to be rude to other employees.

“What we found in this study is that the contagious effect is based on an automatic cognitive mechanism — automatic means it happens somewhere in the subconscious part of your brain, so you don’t know its happening and can’t do much to stop it,” explained the study’s lead author, Trevor Foulk.  “Anything from simple insults to ignoring a co-worker, to purposely dis-including someone or withholding information,” can create the toxic environment, he added.  “It doesn’t just hurt your feelings,” says Mr. Foulk. “Experiencing or witnessing rudeness hurts your performance.”

A whopping 98% of workers say they have experienced workplace rudeness, with 50% percent of people experiencing these behaviors at least weekly, according to the study.  Any and all kinds of rudeness, from simple insults, to ignoring a co-worker, to purposely dis-including or withholding information from someone, can create the toxic environment.

Not only does rudeness negatively affect the workplace; it has also been linked to more stress at home.

Organizations’ cultures, like those of entire societies and nationalities, are the sum total of learned behaviors and the social and business values they reflect. People in the organization observe these behaviors in its key leaders and each other. Intuitively they associate the behaviors with success, they adopt them themselves and they pass them on to new members. It is an intuitive process that nurtures and sustains itself unless and until the key leaders change the key behaviors to new ones that reflect different values.  Rudeness is a behavior. As such it can be changed, and the toxic culture it creates will change along with it. But the leaders are the ones who have to start the process and sustain it.

Keep smiling and be respectful to one another. That is not just a happy-face platitude; it is a real-world strategy that helps build a winning culture and improve performance in organizations.  For more information about how you can build a more positive environment at your workplace, please call our Advice and Resolution team today at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

Overcoming a Toxic Workplace: Insights from Communication Expert Laura Hamilton

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

When Sunday afternoon rolls around, do you become worried or start to feel sick as you anxiously anticipate your return to the office?

Laura Hamilton, communication expert and president of her own consulting business based in Winston-Salem, N.C., says that being worried sick about going to work is a sign that your workplace is toxic. Workers in toxic environments usually have a gut feeling that something is awry in the company, says Laura.

Employees in these environments might feel as though opportunities to grow are limited and that working with their coworkers is challenging. Depending on how toxic their workplace is, employees may also feel a sense of panic, anxiety or that they have no place to go or no one to turn to for help.

Laura says that several factors help foster a toxic atmosphere. Individuals who partake in bullying, self-righteous or self-absorbed behavior can add to workplace chaos. Employees who strive for perfection or use passive-aggressive tactics to make their points can cause stress to their coworkers. Setting impossible project deadlines or practicing unfair bonus competitions can also make your staff feel overwhelmed.

If your environment is harmful, you should hold your management team partly responsible because research shows that a work environment is a reflection of how things run at the top. Laura points out that there are cases where one disgruntled employee can destroy the productivity in an entire department as well.

If you don’t take action to correct your toxic workplace, your company could suffer some of the following consequences:

  • Loss of productivity
  • Financial losses that affect the bottom line
  • Increase in absenteeism
  • Increase in insurance claims for stress-related diseases
  • Production of low-quality work

Not only will your business be affected, but Laura says that your employees will soon show wear and tear from the negative environment. Employees working under toxic conditions can feel anxious or angry. They may lose confidence or isolate themselves from their coworkers. Laura says that most employees don’t realize they are under so much pressure and stress, as their work environment becomes their “new normal.”

Unfortunately, management may not be aware of the toxic environment they are letting build up, says Laura. Although many workers might be hesitant to go to upper management and report how their work environment is affecting them, management can’t fix a problem if they don’t know one exists. Address the serious situation with your management team, and suggest ways that your company’s environment can be more positive and productive.

Laura Hamilton can be reached at for additional questions relating to toxic environments.