Workplace Rudeness Causes Mistakes on the Job

Whether you see or experience it, disrespectful behavior can create errors

Ever had a boss who chewed you and your coworkers out on a regular basis? Turns out, it’s not just bad for morale—it’s also bad for your performance. According to an article in the July issue of British Medical Journal, rudeness in the workplace causes mistakes. And, it’s not just the work of the person who’s been chewed out that suffers. Bystanders who witness tension, arguments and cruelty also become more accident-prone. While this can be troublesome to any business, it can be dangerous when the workplace is a hospital or operating room, says author Rhona Flin, Ph.D., professor of applied psychology at the University of Aberdeen.

In a poll of 800 North American employees, 10 percent said they experience rudeness at work on a daily basis. And in a survey of surgical health-care professionals, 60 percent of respondents said they had been subjected to aggressive behavior from a nurse or surgeon within the past six months.

In her report, Flin describes a series of studies that point to the troubling effects of workplace discourteousness. In the first, a group of students were invited to take part in an experiment. Those who were insulted by the professor on the way to the test session scored significantly lower on a series of memory tests than those who were not spoken to rudely. According to Flin, human attention is driven by emotion. When an altercation gets us riled up, it prevents us from being able to concentrate on the task at hand.

The next segment tested how students would react to seeing a colleague treated brusquely. Here, the professor told a student who showed up late that he was irresponsible, couldn’t expect to hold a job down in the real world and that he could not participate in the experiment with his classmates. The students who saw the incident performed worse on their cognitive tests than a control group that had not witnessed the negative interaction.

Past research has shown that all it takes is one person’s negativity to spoil an entire work environment. According to the University of Washington study, a single toxic team member can bring down an entire organization. In a follow-up study, they also found that the vast majority of people surveyed could identify at least one bad apple that brought about dysfunction to their team.

Back before I became a company of one, I had my fair share of rude bosses and coworkers who always brought the rest of us down with them. Though I can’t say whether they made my work sloppier, their negativity definitely sapped my mental energy and made it harder to concentrate. Plus, it puts a damper on any enthusiasm you had for your job up to that point. And for me, I know that I do a much better job when I can actually enjoy the task in front of me, instead of worrying about whether I’m going to be the one who gets chewed out next.

What do you think: Does rudeness get in the way of your doing a good job at work? Chime in below!

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