Linda Wasmer Andrews

Minding the Body

How Rudeness at Work Can Wreck Your Health

Thoughtless coworkers and rude bosses hurt more than just your feelings.

Posted Mar 31, 2015

Source: morgueFile

Workplace rudeness sets the stage for after-work stress and eventual health problems. In a recent study from Macquarie University in Australia, 175 attorneys and law firm employees filled out surveys twice daily for a week.

The results were a rude awakening: More than half said they had been on the receiving end of workplace incivility at some point during the study. Those who experienced incivility felt tenser and more preoccupied with their jobs when going home that evening. They also felt less mentally recovered the next morning.

How Rude!

When researchers talk about workplace rudeness, they generally mean something less severe than full-on aggression or bullying. Instead, they’re typically referring to subtler slights, such as being ignored, talked down to, or treated impolitely.

The coworker who deliberately makes a lunch run for everyone in the office except you is an example. So is the supervisor who sighs loudly and rolls her eyes when you can’t instantly resolve a problem.

It’s a scourge in many companies. In a 2014 survey of 1,000 U.S. adults, about two-thirds agreed that “incivility in America has risen to crisis levels.” More than one-quarter of those ages 18 to 33 had quit a job because their workplace was uncivil.

Adding Injury to Insult

Rudeness may seem like nothing more than a pesky irritant—the psychological equivalent of a mosquito bite. But even the lowly mosquito can transmit dengue fever. Similarly, research shows that low-level stress due to rudeness can ruin your mood and drain your energy.

It can also make you feel less committed to and satisfied with your job. In a poll of 800 managers and employees in 17 industries, 78 percent of those who had been treated rudely said their commitment to the company had flagged. Nearly two-thirds said their job performance had declined, and almost half said they had intentionally reduced the effort they put into work.

If the rudeness persists and your stress accumulates, your health may start to suffer. Chronic stress can contribute to a host of ailments, including anxiety, depression, weight gain, heart disease, sleep problems and digestive complaints.

Rude-imentary Precautions

If your thoughtless coworker never refills the coffee maker or your ultra-demanding boss never says “thank you,” don’t let it get you down. Many people manage to thrive even when they have to work with someone who's rude. The research team behind a new study of thriving workers suggested some strategies that may help:

  • Limit your interactions with the rude person, if you can. When that isn’t feasible, however, try to include others in your interactions to dilute the effects of one individual’s boorish behavior.
  • Seek out opportunities to keep growing and learning in your job. One key component of thriving at work is feeling as if you’re constantly getting better at what you do. Remind yourself that you can still learn from a work relationship even if the other person is a bit of a jerk.

When you’ve had a particularly rough day, make an extra effort to stop by the gym or go for a run after work. Physical activity helps boost your mood, restore your energy, and relieve your stress. Plus, focusing on your own body in motion is a great distraction from brooding over someone else's ill-mannered behavior.

Linda Wasmer Andrews is a longtime health journalist with a master’s degree in psychology. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook.