Rudeness in the workplace happens a lot and can have serious effects — including health-related — on the victims, a new report says. 

"It's very frequent. It happens all of the time in the workplace," Sandy Hershcovis told The Homestretch on Thursday.

Hershcovis is the lead researcher on Targeted workplace incivility: The roles of belongingness, embarrassment, and power, a joint study from the University of Calgary's Haskayne School of Business and London School of Economics and Political Science.

"People have reported rates of up to 99 per cent of people having experienced workplace incivility or also witnessing it. It's a very common experience and we wanted to understand how it affected people."

The report defines rudeness as low intensity, ambiguous behaviour.

"It was a deviant behaviour and it could include things like, walking by someone without saying 'Hello,' or talking over someone while they are in meeting, stuff like that. It is ambiguous whether they are intending to harm you," Hershcovis explained.

Sandy Hershcovis

Sandy Hershcovis, lead researcher on a new workplace rudeness study, says it happens more than most people might think and there are some serious consequences. (David Bell/CBC)

She says the consequences can be greater than many people might believe.

"We found that people who were treated rudely at work experienced higher levels of embarrassment, lower levels of belongingness. They felt like they didn't fit it, and those translated into higher feelings of job insecurity and more negative health outcomes, including stomach problems, headaches and sleeplessness."

Hershcovis adds the effects can last for days or longer and are more intense when it's a manager or supervisor.

"Co-workers can casually joke and insult each other without getting noticed as much. When supervisors do that, people are much more attuned and much more sensitive to it."

Organizations are starting to wake up to the problem, especially universities, she said.

"When people are treated rudely, they feel like they don't fit in, they are not valued in the organization. Witnesses have a role. They can go to the target or victim and speak to them, console, make them feel like they do fit in," Hershcovis said.

"I think that would go a long way to mitigating the effects that we found."


With files from The Homestretch