Disrespect in workplace is contagious

A while back as I was driving to a client’s site, I heard an interesting clip on WOUB’s Family Health. Dr. Harold C. Thompson, an osteopathic family physician and an Ohio University employee, talked about a research project at Baylor University on the effects of incivility or disrespect on employees and families published in The Journal of Organizational Behavior.

This research hit close to home for me because a number of my clients struggle with disrespect in the workplace. Many of you are nodding your heads because problems with respect are commonplace.

One hundred and ninety workers with fulltime jobs and an employed spouse or partner were participants in the research. Fifty-seven percent of the workers were male and seventy-five percent had children living with them. The workers and their spouses or partners were administered surveys.

The results showed that rudeness or lack of respect at work negatively impacts the family and even the partner or spouse’s life at work. Disrespect at work is contagious. Not only does is infect the employee’s workplace environment, it follows the employee home and transfers to the workplace of the spouse or partner.

Dr. Thompson suggested we can address stress at work by listening to music, taking a walk, using breathing exercises, or venting to a friend in order to reduce the negative outcomes on the family.

He also suggested seeking help through your employer’s Employee Assistance Program for mediation, counseling or stress management workshops.

In addition to the above techniques, I recommend we spend time talking as an intact work group about the disrespectful behaviors we experience and defining more productive behaviors.

As this research indicates, disrespect not only effects the two parties involved, all those around them or those who hear about the event are hurt or disturbed. Now we can add the family and the spouse or partner’s workplace among the injured.

I often say, “Dysfunctional behaviors that are not addressed will be repeated.” Employees can and should be held accountable for dysfunctional actions or words.

At minimum leaders and followers should take the responsibility to talk about disrespect and suggest more appropriate ways of dealing with the conflict. For this type of dialogue to be possible, all employees must give permission for such discussions. My experience is that most people will do so. However, ongoing discussions are necessary.

I am told frequently by clients that, “We get over our little spats and the customer never knows about it.” That belief may be true but I doubt it. Customers and employees can feel negative environments and tend to choose more positive ones. When the consequences of disrespect flows to the family and beyond, the importance of addressing it increases dramatically. We do not have to feel helpless due to demonstrations of disrespect. We can take action as individuals and organizations.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s new book, “And my Brother Jack: Everyday Leadership Lessons,” visit his website raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.


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