Got a rude employee? Nip that behavior now, Lund University researchers say, or it could affect staff morale and spread to other workers, reducing productivity and perhaps leading staff members to look elsewhere for employment.

Three psychologists at the Swedish school base their recommendation on a survey of almost 6,000 people about the social climate in the workplace. In total, 75% of the survey respondents said that they had been subjected to rudeness at least one or two times in the past year.

The researchers defined rudeness as something that in some way violates the norm for mutual respect, and both rank-and-file staff and their supervisors can be guilty of it. Examples of rudeness, according to the researchers:

  • Excluding someone from information and cooperation.
  • “Forgetting” to invite someone to a communal event.
  • Taking credit for the work of others.
  • Spreading rumors.
  • Sending malicious emails.
  • Not giving praise to subordinates.

Rudeness can turn into bullying if left unchecked, says Eva Torkelson, Ph.D., who is leading the project. Further, it can spread: the researchers found that the most common cause of acting rudely was imitating the behavior of colleagues. Rudeness, therefore, can become a vicious circle with considerable consequences for the entire workplace.

And don’t expect co-workers to put a stop to things. “An important finding from our studies is that those who behave rudely in the workplace experience stronger social support, which probably makes them less afraid of negative reactions to their behavior from managers and colleagues,” says Martin Bäckström, Ph.D., professor of psychology.

Nonetheless, it is management’s responsibility to address the issue, and the good news is that training for managers and staff offers a solution, Torkelson says. “When people become aware of the actual consequences of rudeness, it is often an eye-opener,” she adds. “And, of course, most people do not want to be involved in making the workplace worse.”

The researchers’ first study on the topic was published earlier this year. The second one is awaiting publication.