When Rudeness Dominates Your Work Culture, Everyone Pays the Price

You’re rude because your boss is rude.

WOW! That was an article in my feed from the Harvard Business Review this week. I could not wait to click over and absorb that one.

What happens when you have bad behavior and you do nothing about it from an organizational perspective?

When you do not address it in the flick of a switch, this could become your culture. Yes, I’m talking about a culture of screamers. How long do you think you can keep that a secret?

When rudeness dominates, everyone pays a price

I always thought that The Devil Wears Prada is a great movie. I would suggest that movie to all entry level job seekers because it tells such a great story about organizational behavior and having the boss from hell. It also tells a story of how to deal with these challenges. Then again, no matter where you are on your career journey, it is still a good movie.

The character in the movie that I could never quite figure out was Emily. Here is someone who is an administrative assistant, and you would have thought she was one of the major players in the company. She was rude because she saw her boss use that behavior and she was able to exemplify it. Like a cascading water fall, you are rude because your boss is rude.

However, the downside to having the boss from hell on the premises is that it not only affects that direct report, it affects everyone who walks past and happens to hear it. It affects the person who sits in the vicinity of that sound chamber. It affects the friends of the people who hear that story.

But the most detrimental effect that it has on your organization is that it affects the bottom line. When you have an organization of screamers, you are churning money because you probably also have a high turnover number, and your so-called innovation initiatives are likely stalled because people are just not into it when the culture is challenged. Your workforce is probably spending a great chunk of their time just trying to get out.

The HBR article mentioned companies creating a 10/5 rule. I wondered, what is that?

Civility should be at the top of the list

The “10/5 way” says that if you’re within 10 feet of someone, you must make eye contact. Within five feet, you say hello. As my daughter would say, “really?”

That was a new one for me, mandating niceties. However, I should report that the company has already reported greater patient satisfaction and an increase in patient referrals

Another solution was that the executive was going to take some behavioral training classes because he had gone through six (6) administrative assistants.

To be successful, an organization has to make it a priority to manage its interpersonal relationships so there are positive and respectful interactions among employees and managers. This is not brain surgery, folks.

If the boss is abrasive, then everyone else has an excuse for being abrasive. If the boss is polite and encouraging, everyone else will likely follow in the boss’ footsteps.

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Leadership should take the lead in this. Everyone should respect each other in the workplace. Title, status and hierarchy should not matter.

From the boardroom to the mail room, everyone should get equal amounts of respect. Having the leaders of the company make a commitment to civility goes a long way toward sending the message that it will not be tolerated..

Zero-tolerance is the Golden Rule

You must have zero-tolerance expectations for abrasive behaviors in the workplace. Make sure you take action, otherwise, you are condoning it.

Teach employees how to self-monitor their own behavior. Employees need to know what their triggers are and how to control their impulses and responses.

As part of the development curriculum, stress management should be offered (I prefer not to use the term anger management because of the strong emotions it has attached to it).

Encourage employees to consider the impact of their words and actions on others before they act. Think before you respond to that email; do not react the same way that you are being reacted to. It never works and it could head downhill from there and escalate the situation.

You may think the issue of civility in the workplace is too big to tackle, however like anything else, change comes one person at a time. If today each of us shows respect and good manners to our colleagues, that can make a difference.

So if you are that rude boss, take some time to think about the message you are sending about yourself and the enormous amount of stress you are responsible for in the workplace.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.


1 Comment on “When Rudeness Dominates Your Work Culture, Everyone Pays the Price

  1. This is great article. Leaders lead, employees follow. I saw/see this with my own eyes. I’ve worked with very good/nice Leaders who lead with integrity; I have much respect for them and always want to learn from them. All the employees talk nice things about them and listen to them. On the other hand, with this one leader who is so rude, mean, demanding, intimidating, threatening… all the employees become resentful, reacting; and many become rude like that one too. The workplace is like a mess. It takes a long time to fix. I wonder how did this person got the job with this organization at the beginning?

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