As we navigate the transition from pandemic work adjustments to whatever the “new normal” may be, we’re all dealing with a little extra uncertainty and change. The additional effort necessary to handle this change can add stress and can potentially lead to more irritability, shortness, or rudeness in our interactions at work. Are these kinds of work behaviors minor events that let people blow off steam, then dissipate? Or, do they have a longer, more negative impact? Recent research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology weighs in on the effects of bad behavior at work.
The Research Details
A team of researchers conducted a meta-analysis (a high-level statistical research process that combines results from several studies) to determine the impact that negative workplace behaviors have on relationships. They analyzed 246 cases (including almost 97,000 people), and found that, when one person engages in a bad workplace behavior, the other person in the relationship reciprocates in a similar manner. The more frequently one person shows bad behavior, the more frequently the other person reciprocates in a similar way and at a similar level of severity. Often, the reciprocator escalates the bad behavior. In other words, if you act like a jerk, others will act like a jerk right back at you. Surprise.
The bad behaviors in this study spanned the range of minor to more severe behaviors, including incivility, criticizing others, withholding information, treating others badly, bullying, harassment, abusive supervision, workplace aggression.
What This Means for Organizations
This research shows that bad workplace behavior, rather than dissipating, has a longer-lasting impact on relationships at work. In the social exchange idea of “an eye for an eye”, bad behaviors are returned in kind, or are even escalated. These bad behaviors can create a bad organizational culture, harm employees’ productivity, and lead to negative organizational outcomes. So, what should organizations do about bad workplace behavior?
Bad behavior matters. Tolerate or ignore it at your peril.
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