Do Your Team Members Know the Difference Between Funny and Rude?

BY Kathy Crosett
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Nobody wants to work in a boring stuffy office environment. It’s tempting to want to liven things up. It’s also hard to know where to draw the line.

Does everyone appreciate your practical jokes? Is your wisecrack going to be perceived as hysterically funny or just plain rude? It’s worth paying attention to what’s happening in your office environment. New research from the University of North Carolina shows that rudeness negatively impacts job engagement and performance.

Headed by Andrew Woolum at UNC, researchers studied managers who were enrolled in an executive M.B.A. program. The managers were asked to view a video in the morning. Some managers saw videos that depicted rude behavior. Others saw a video that showed ‘neutral’ behavior. These managers then engaged in a word scramble exercise designed to emphasize the behaviors shown in the videos.

At the end of the day, participants were asked to fill out a survey about their day’s experience. The executive managers who witnessed ‘rude-​behavior’ videos and worked on scrambles that described rudeness had more complaints about ‘incivility in the workplace’ than the control group. In addition, these managers did not make as much progress on their goals for the day.

Researchers concluded that the disengagement from work was the direct effect of having witnessed rudeness early in the day. "So when incivility or rudeness is witnessed in the morning, it calls to mind related concepts. That also means that when you encounter ambiguous behavior in the workplace later in the day, you are primed to see it as indicative of rudeness," says Dr. Woolum.

If you want to encourage a courteous and welcoming work environment, remind your employees to leave their rudeness at the door. Become a leader on this front by exhibiting the kind of behavior you hope to see from your employees. Doing so will also impact the bottom line.