Incivility takes a toll in the workplace, according to new research

Reading Time: 2 minutes
Emory's Richard Kuerston, DBA, MBA, an administrator at the Emory Brain Health Center, has studied incivility in the workplace and found it to have dramatic cognitive consequences.

Emory’s Richard Kuerston, DBA, MBA, an administrator at the Emory Brain Health Center, has studied incivility in the workplace and found it to have dramatic cognitive consequences.

Consistent rudeness or incivility at work can do more than hurt self-esteem; it can actually decrease productivity, increase costs, and increase employee turnover.

Richard Kuerston (DBA ’18), who has a DBA/MBA and is program director in Emory’s cognitive neurology program, has studied the fallout of this type of negative workplace behavior—and it’s not only blatant disrespect or bullying, but rather, subtle, low-level rudeness that disrupts the norms of the workplace.

“Rudeness is a low-intensity, abnormal behavior where the aggressor’s intent isn’t quite clear,” says Kuerston. “Were they being rude or did I misunderstand? Am I just being sensitive or is this something I should worry about?”

Kuerston’s study involved two groups coming in for what they thought was a study about personality and decision-making at the Emory Brain Health Center. One group received neutral instructions via a video conference. The other group received instructions, also via a video conference, where the body language, word choice, and mannerisms were distinctly uncivil. The group that experienced low-level rudeness had worse memory, less attentiveness, and increased impulsivity on a cognitive assessment.

Kuerston says his study shows that managers need to take action when employees or colleagues are being rude or experiencing incivility.

“The more we are able to support the scientific validity of this study, the more we can make the case that incivility in the workplace cannot be excused or tolerated,” says Kuerston. “It sounds like a small issue. But in reality, it has major consequences. Managers should know and be on the look-out for this. The more we study this behavior, the more we learn just how significantly it impacts our cognitive performance.”


This story was originally published by Emory University as part of its Frontiers of the Brain Series in partnership with Georgia Public Broadcasting. For more information about the Brain Health Center at Emory, call Emory HealthConnection, 404-778-7777, or visit Emory Brain Health Center’s website.

To learn more about the UF DBA program, please visit the DBA website.

Tagged