Bad behavior at work can have very real consequences. People who experience workplace rudeness, for example, report lower engagement, suffer more mental and physical health problems and are more likely to burn out and quit their jobs. And nearly all of us are affected by rudeness and other types of workplace misbehavior, like interrupting and exclusion: Estimates suggest 98% of employees are on the receiving end over the course of a year.
Given bad behavior’s prevalence and impact, surely leaders take reports of it seriously, get the facts, and punish offenders, right? Some scholars have noted that when information about misbehavior surfaces, savvy leaders know better than to blame the messenger. Unfortunately, our research paints a picture that is much bleaker.
We set out to investigate how people in positions of power view victims and perpetrators of workplace misbehavior. We first studied an organization that operates a chain of casual dining restaurants. We gave each employee a list of the names of every other employee who worked in their restaurant and asked them to report who they were rude to and who was rude to them. We then asked managers to evaluate the behavior of each employee. Across the five restaurants we studied, 149 of the 169 employees (88%) and 13 of the 14 managers (93%) participated. Notably, those employees who reported being victims of rudeness were largely perceived by their managers as perpetrators of rude behavior. And the employees who were reported as being rude to others weren’t seen that way by their managers under two conditions: they had a tight relationship with the boss or were high performers.
To determine whether our findings applied outside of this organization, we enlisted the help of our undergraduate students. We asked them to recruit working adults from among their friends and family so that we could survey employees and [More]