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Remote Rudeness: According to a New Study, Workers Are Becoming Less Civil

Dive Brief: Rudeness at work has increased since the pandemic began, according to a recent survey from Korn Ferry

Dive Brief:

  • Rudeness at work has increased since the pandemic began, according to a recent survey from Korn Ferry. Fifty-nine percent of respondents said colleagues were ruder compared to pre-pandemic times, while 41% reported their colleagues were less rude.
  • Seven in 10 workers agreed that working remotely made it easier for colleagues to be rude through behaviors such as interrupting on phone calls and not returning emails, survey results showed. Roughly one-quarter of people reported remote work enabled rudeness to “a great extent.”
  • Korn Ferry surveyed 690 professionals for the survey in early November.
Dive Insight:

Rudeness creates more than a temporary unpleasantness; it can seriously disrupt workers’ productivity and provide an incentive for them to find a new job. Korn Ferry’s survey found that nearly 4 in 5 workers find it difficult to focus on work after having an experience with rudeness; that 83% of workers try to avoid rude colleagues; and that 3 in 4 workers have considered quitting due to a rude colleague or boss.

Allowing rudeness to proliferate can be a culture-killer for the workplace. In a post on its findings, Korn Ferry referenced a recent meta-analysis of 70 studies by Larry Martinez, an associate professor at Portland State University, which found “that workplace incivility ripples through teams and organizations and causes more damage than previously thought.” Rudeness is “contagious,” James Bywater, associate client partner at Korn Ferry, added in the post.

Bywater also noted that rudeness goes beyond angry outbursts and other extreme presentations of emotion — it can also include “small snubs and rebuffs.” In many cases, people don’t even know how they’re being perceived. Often, when they find out through the intervention of a manager or member of the HR team, they’re “just appalled,” Debra Hermann, senior client partner at Korn Ferry, told HR Dive in a phone call. “They have no idea how they came across.”

Hermann recommends approaching the perpetrator with direct feedback and in good faith, and — in the cases of small slights — assuming they didn’t know how they made the recipient of the rudeness feel. With bigger or recurring rudeness issues, it’s worth considering whether the perpetrator may need some coaching or a more specialized approach. In some cases, the situation may require a reprimand.

Responding to the recipient of the rudeness is no less important, Hermann said. “When someone is rude to you, you often have a physiological response,” she noted, pointing out that a person’s heart rate can increase and they can ruminate on the interaction. “Check in to help them get past it,” she said. Give them a moment to take a deep breath and remind them that the rudeness likely was not personal.

To help prevent rudeness in the workplace, particularly in remote-work setups, Hermann suggested telling employees to take breaks and step away from their screens, especially when they’re feeling agitated. She pointed out that all workers have moments of annoyance or anger.

Burnout and overwork are likely contributing to a rise in rudeness; employers can help alleviate these issues long term by reviewing compensation plans and looking for ways to improve work-life balance. As a more immediate step, employers might approach the ratcheting up of rudeness by experimenting with mindfulness workshops or benefits that allow employees to book free yoga or meditation classes or free counseling.