Offensive co-worker behavior has far-reaching consequences

In a study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior, Baylor University researchers reported that a co-worker’s offensive behavior could have extensive consequences even beyond the workplace. According to findings, intense stress caused by discourteous behavior impacts the worker to an extent that he/she takes it home to the family and partner who in turn carry it forward to their workplace.

Study author and assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship, Baylor University Hankamer School of Business, Merideth J. Ferguson, Ph.D., said, “Employees who experience such incivility at work bring home the stress, negative emotion and perceived ostracism that results from those experiences, which then affects more than their family life – it also creates problems for the partner’s life at work.”

She added, “This research underlines the importance of stopping incivility before it starts so that the ripple effect of incivility does not impact the employee’s family and potentially inflict further damage beyond the workplace where the incivility took place and cross over into the workplace of the partner.”
Furthermore, on seeing the worker stressed and worn out, the partner takes up more of the household responsibility, which interferes with the partner’s work life. The study suggested that this kind of stress took a toll on the worker’s as well as the partner’s marriage.

Around 190 workers and their partners were involved in the study. Full-time employed workers had working partners and co-workers who completed an online survey, following which working partners of the workers completed a separate survey. The database considered responses of the initial contact and the partner as one complete response. The males (average age, 36) roughly made up for 57% of the employee sample, females (average age, 35) accounted for nearly 43% of the partner sample, and 75% of these couples had children.

Ferguson said, “Unlike the study of incivility’s effects at work, the study of its impact on the family is in its infancy. However, these findings emphasize the notion that organizations must realize the far-reaching effects of co-worker incivility and its impact on employees and their families.”

She added, “One approach to prevent this stress might be to encourage workers to seek support through their organization’s employee assistance program or other resources such as counseling or stress management so that tactics or mechanisms for buffering the effect of incivility’s stress on the family can be identified.”

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