Study finds workplace rudeness is contagious

You can’t spread it with a cough, sneeze or kiss, but workplace rudeness is still contagious, researchers say.

People who encounter rude behavior from co-workers are more likely to act rudely in later interactions, according to a recent University of Florida study.

Mistreated people are also more likely to feel as if others are treating them rudely, to which they respond with more rudeness, passing on negative emotions like a virus.

That means companies with one toxic employee may soon find others acting out too.


“Part of the problem is that we are generally tolerant of these behaviors, but they’re actually really harmful,” said Trevor Foulk, the study’s lead author. “Rudeness has an incredibly powerful negative effect on the workplace.”

Foulk and his team tracked 90 graduate students practicing negotiation with their classmates and asked them to rate their partners’ behavior. Students who rated their initial partner as rude were more likely to be rated as rude themselves by later partners.

The findings were published last month in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

The study also found that rudeness, like cigarette smoke, has nasty secondhand effects: Participants who watched a video of a rude workplace interaction and then answered an email from a fictitious customer were more likely to be rude in their responses than people who watched a video of a polite interaction.


“That tells us that rudeness will flavor the way you interpret ambiguous cues,” Foulk said.

Rudeness: Don’t pass it on.

Nehamas writes for the Miami Herald/McClatchy.