The cost of rude co-workers

You can probably think of at least one colleague you’ve had at some point in your career that you thought was rude. Whether they speak over others in meetings, tell offensive jokes, or outright bully other employees, dealing with an impolite co-worker is not easy. It can be an emotionally challenging task to hold a conversation with someone about their negative behaviour, and office politics and gossip can quickly sabotage your peacemaking efforts if more than one culprit is involved.

If rude co-workers aren’t dealt with, your workplace culture could take a lot of damage. A study by leadership researcher Christine Porath found that incivility in the workplace caused 66% of respondents to cut back their efforts, 80% to lose working time worrying about the situation, and 12% to leave their job altogether. Therefore, this is a workplace problem that’s best to nip in the bud. Read on for our advice on why and how you can soothe tensions with hostile co-workers.

What is the cost of rudeness in the workplace?

Workplace hostility can affect your company in several areas. These might include:

  • Loss in business earnings – according to a 2007 study by Porath and Amir Erez, workplace incivility can cost businesses around $14,000 (£10,500) per employee due to lost work time and productivity.
  • Less creativity – an experiment by Porath, Erez and Christine Pearson showed that participants who were treated rudely by other subjects were 30% less creative than others. Additionally, they produced 25% fewer ideas, and the ones they did come up with were less original. An explanation for this is that rude employees may leave others feeling intimidated and unwilling or scared to share their ideas, which can stifle your team’s overall creativity.
  • Low employee morale – nobody likes working in an environment where they feel unvalued or disrespected. Regularly negative comments and behaviour will upset those on the receiving end, and this could in turn lead them to lash out too. Unhappy employees can result in even more hostility, which is why it’s even more important to address the issue of an office bully as soon as possible.
  • Potential lawsuits – a rude employee could actually be breaking the law with their behaviour. If they are harassing, excluding or making fun of another member of staff because of a characteristic such as disability, gender, race or age, they could be sued for discrimination – and as their employer, you could also be liable if you don’t act on the problem.
  • Bad company reputation – ultimately, all of these things can lead to your company gaining a bad reputation in your industry, which will make it harder to hire new employees and grow your customer base.

Dealing with the problem

Although it might be difficult to confront an employee about their problematic behaviour, there are several ways you can go about this with dignity and respect for everyone involved. Some tips for dealing with a rude co-worker include:

  • Being the example you want to see – to put it briefly, be a good role model for your employees. Your staff look to their management team as leaders, and will follow the example you set. By treating others with courtesy, you will be subconsciously telling your staff that you expect the same behaviour from them.
  • Investigating all claims of rudeness or hostile behaviour – what one person might perceive as a joke might be taken as deeply offensive by another. Even if the perceived hostility is a result of miscommunication, and was not a deliberate attempt to upset or intimidate someone, you should make sure that your staff feel supported to report their concerns about another employee’s behaviour. 
  • Holding mediation meetings – if there is an opportunity for the staff members involved in a situation with a rude employee to meet in person to air their grievances, you should facilitate these discussions. Having a neutral third party in the room can help control the conversation, and determine what the reasons behind the rudeness might be. You might want to meet with the rude employee in private to express your concerns about their behaviour, and to ask if there’s anything happening at work or at home that might be causing them to act out. 
  • Holding conflict de-escalation or anger management training sessions –  instead of calling out a specific individual, which could cause embarrassment, you may want to consider hosting a meeting or activity that focuses on conflict de-escalation or anger management. These could be particularly beneficial if those who have reported their concerns want to stay anonymous. 
  • Knowing when to dismiss an employee – in some cases, discriminatory language or behaviour could be grounds for an immediate termination of someone’s employment. Additionally, if a rude employee refuses to cooperate with your peace-making efforts, it could drive other members of staff away from your company. If warnings about their behavior aren’t enough, it might be necessary to fire them for the sake of protecting your business’ reputation. However, this should only be used as a last resort, and only with enough evidence to prevent you from being hit with a wrongful dismissal lawsuit later on.

Final thoughts

More often than not, the problem of a rude co-worker can be easily solved with careful mediation, and by treating all parties involved with dignity and respect. It also provides a great opportunity to build your conflict resolution skills, as well as demonstrating your company’s commitment to employee wellbeing. Although it might be difficult at times, you should be reassured by the fact that you’re doing the right thing. 

We hope this article has helped you understand the effects of incivility in the workplace, and you now feel prepared to deal with this issue if (or when) it arises in your HR career.

In some cases, incivility in the workplace is the result of a bad culture fit. At TalentSpa, we’ll help you make sure that your company finds the right hire for your vacancy, with dedicated support from day one of your hiring process. Our powerful candidate sourcing software with a built-in applicant tracking system

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