A co-worker's rudeness can have a great impact on relationships far beyond the workplace, according to a new study by Baylor University. Findings suggest that stress created by incivility can be so intense that it is taken home by the employee and impacts the well-being of the person's family and partner, who in turn takes the stress to his or her workplace (Journal of Organizational Behavior, online, August 2011).
"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," said author Merideth Ferguson, PhD, assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship at the Baylor University Hankamer School of Business. "It also creates problems for the partner's life at work."
The study "underlines the importance of stopping incivility before it starts so the ripple effect 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," she said.
In addition, since the employee comes home more stressed and distracted, the partner is likely to pick up more of the family responsibilities, and those demands may interfere with the partner's work life. Such stress also significantly affects the worker's and partner's marital satisfaction.
The study involved 190 workers and their partners. Workers were employed full-time, had co-workers, and had an employed partner. Workers and their partners completed separate online surveys. Approximately 57 percent of the employee sample was male, with an average age of 36, and 43 percent of the partner sample was male, with an average age of 35. Of these couples, 75 percent had children living with them.
"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," Dr. Ferguson said. "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 tactics or mechanisms for buffering the effect of incivility's stress on the family can be identified."