What happens when we are rude to people in the workplace?

Being rude at work.. What happens then?It’s a simple enough question, with an answer that we can probably all relate to. You know how it feels when someone is rude to you, whether that is in the workplace or more broadly in life.

There is a physiological response. Your heart can start beating faster, you might get flushed or your palms feel sweaty. Then there’s the more practical response after the event: worrying / replaying what happened over and over. Telling all and sundry. Or avoiding the other person.

The real impact on rudeness in the workplace

All of this can have a very real impact in the workplace. A recent McKinsey article titled: The Hidden Toll of Workplace Incivility provides some working insights:

  • Workplace incivility is up from a reported 50% of employees reporting that they were treated rudely at work up to 62%
  • Of those who did feel that they had been treated badly:
    • 47% deliberately decreased the time at work;
    • 38% decreased the quality of their work;
    • 12% left the company;
    • 25% of employees took out their issues with a customer(!!);
    • 66% said their performance declined; and
    • 78% said their commitment to the organisation had declined

All this costs money, time and productivity.

So why are we being ruder?

The world is a fast paced place to live and work at the moment.

People are experiencing enormous stress, without having the skills to be able to deal with that stress. The reliance on technology and a reduction in face to face interactions doesn’t help. Misunderstandings occur when cultures come together without understanding and knowing the basis for particular approaches.

What happens when we are polite and helpful?

Of course the reverse is true. When the culture of a workplace is healthy, there is an increase in all the good stuff:

  • Enhanced team and individual performance;
  • More trust (leading to better outcomes in every sense);
  • Better well being;
  • More job satisfaction;
  • An increased ability to be able to navigate change; and
  • Increased creativity, innovation and collaboration

How do we change a culture?

As with anything culture based, it starts with being aware of where you are.

The standard you walk by is the standard you accept.

What are you walking by? And why? Is it too hard? Has it just become too ingrained to do anything about? Do you not know where to start?

The authors of the McKinsey article suggest the following steps:

  • Weed out the toxic people;
  • Be clear about the culture you want and what you have;
  • Give people the skills to give AND receive feedback (check out radical candour for a great approach to this);
  • Provide employees the awareness of different cultural differences and norms;
  • Give employees the skills to have difficult conversations; and
  • Provide a workplace where employees can manage their stress (in and out of the workplace).

And most importantly, most critically.. Look at the leadership..

If, as a leader, you’re treating people rudely – you are setting the standard you accept. If you’re accepting others treating people badly – you’re condoning it. The number one aspect that makes THE difference in workplace civility – is how a leader treats his/her employees.


  • Know yourself .. Be aware of how you are behaving. If you’re in a position of leadership – what are you tolerating?
  • Watch others. Weed out the toxics.
  • Watch: Radical Candour
  • Read: the McKinsey article


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