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Exposure to Workplace Rudeness Can Hurt Job Performance

Workplace rudeness can be unpleasant for all of us. But did you know that it can have negative effects on job performance? Research by Woolum and colleagues (2017) in the Journal of Applied Psychology examined how only brief exposure to rudeness at the beginning of the day can hurt work performance for the entire day.

The researchers conducted an experimental study to examine this relationship. At the beginning of the workday, some employees were exposed to videos of rude workplace interactions. Others were exposed to neutral situations. After viewing the videos, the employees went back to their normal workdays. The employees who saw the rude videos were more likely to perceive other behavior as being rude throughout the workday. Once the rudeness was “activated” in their minds, the employees may have been more likely to interpret neutral behavior as being rude.

Core self-evaluations also played a role in how the employees were influenced by rudeness. According to core self-evaluations theory, people assess themselves and their capabilities on four different dimensions—neuroticism, self-esteem, locus of control, and self-efficacy. These dimensions together form a trait that can influence how individuals respond to threats or opportunities. The researchers found that when individuals were exposed to rude behavior before work, those with high core self-evaluations (i.e., those who think positively of themselves) were less likely to be influenced. Those with low core self-evaluations were more likely to be influenced by rude behavior.

Workplace rudeness can impact various job performance outcomes. Employees may be too focused on the rudeness of an unpleasant person to focus on their own work. The researchers also found that experiencing rudeness was related to decreased progress towards goals, lower task performance, psychological withdrawal, and avoidance of interpersonal interactions. These outcomes were less pervasive for individuals who had high self-evaluations and more pervasive amongst those with low self-evaluations.


Woolum, A., Foulk, T., Lanaj, K., & Erez, A. (2017). Rude color glasses: The contaminating effects of witnessed morning rudeness on perceptions and behaviors throughout the workday. Journal of Applied Psychology, 102(12), 1658.