Workplace incivility, aggression impacts more than half of US workers



What’s causing so much unhappiness at work for more than half of American workers? Incivility and aggression in the workplace, according to a new study.

Nearly 55 percent of workers say they’ve faced “unpleasant or potentially hazardous” conditions at work, according to a new study by the Rand Corp., Harvard Medical School and the University of California, Los Angeles. The study of more than 3,000 workers in the U.S. found that many workers feel they’ve faced sexual harassment, bullying and hostile environments in the workforce.

“I was surprised how taxing the workplace appears to be, both for less-educated and for more-educated workers,” said lead author Nicole Maestas, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and an adjunct economist at RAND. “Work is taxing at the office and it’s taxing when it spills out of the workplace into people’s family lives.”

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No matter the position or education of the employee, most are unhappy with their current work environment. While workers without a college education report greater physical demands, many college-educated and older workers are affected in different ways, according to the study.

Only about 38 percent of people say their jobs offer opportunities for advancement, and older employees become less optimistic about job advancement. Half of the workers in the study say they work in their off time to meet the demands of their position.

Chris Kershner of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce said his organization’s Leadership Dayton program teaches participants about the important of embracing “an environment where people feel they can share who they are, what they believe in without fear of repercussions. They have to feel they give and will receive respect and appreciation.”

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Kershner said when employers appreciate and respect diverse views and backgrounds, they’re able to attract and create an environment with workers of diverse opinions.

“Having safety in the workplace, having civility in the workplace is critical for employers,” he said. “Employees who feel more respected and appreciated for who they are have a lot to offer. When you have a project and you’re able to see the impact from different viewpoints, it gives you a better output.”

The impacts of hostile environments vary depending on age and gender too, the study found. Younger and prime-aged women are the workers most likely to experience unwanted sexual attention, while younger men are more likely to experience verbal abuse.

Wright State University professor Nathan Bowling, who studies workplace aggression, said exposure to the negative behavior can even result in physical issues like stomach pain, headaches, sleep issues, depression and anxiety. Workplace aggression — which refers to mistreatment at work — can vary from more passive acts like incivility to aggressive, physical threats and abuse, he said.

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Workplace aggression can permeate an entire work culture, causing victims to lash out back at their perpetrator or even other co-workers. Bowling said it also causes an increase in worker absence and turnover rates, impacts employees performance levels and results in productivity loss for companies.

“More can be done to actively prevent aggressive workplaces and promote cultures of respect and civility,” his book states. “Although one might argue that incivility’s low intensity is not problematic, if an organization condones such behavior or does not actively condemn such behavior, it might indicate to employees that other, more extreme forms of aggression are acceptable.”

Experts say one resolution to increased hostility in the workplace is reclaiming civility. And it’s about more than just politeness, according to the Institute for Civility in Government. To practice civility, workers have to stay present “even with those with whom we have deep-rooted and fierce disagreements.”

“Civility is about more than just politeness, although politeness is a necessary first step. It is about disagreeing without disrespect, seeking common ground as a starting point for dialogue about differences, listening past one’s preconceptions, and teaching others to do the same,” according to the institute.

Bowling said employers have to create — and enforce — clear policies on what’s acceptable behavior. Though aggression and incivility has always existed in the workplace, Bowling said the popularity of social media makes aggressive behavior much more apparent. He said high-profile examples of bullying and incivility can normalize behavior that negatively damages communities.

“Those people are role models, and this starts to look normal,” he said. “People start to think, ‘This is acceptable. Why don’t I do it?”


54 percent of workers report working the same number of hours on a day-to-day basis

Two-thirds of workers experience some degree of mismatch between their desired and actual working conditions

38 percent of workers say their job offers good prospects for advancement

Source: Rand Corp.


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