Rudeness Rampant in the Workplace

Slammed doors, things stolen off desks, a dearth of thank-yous, cell phones going off in the middle of meetings, messy restrooms and cubicle mates who screech like monkeys every morning.

The workplace is more full of rudeness than ever before.

Take "Lisa," a 30-year-old editor for a New York-area teen magazine. She finds her professional life riddled with the unprofessional behavior of co-workers.

"This is my pet peeve: When I'm in the middle of meeting with someone to discuss a story or project and they pick up the phone to talk to their husband, daughter, etc., while I'm standing there waiting," she said. "People constantly come by my desk and pick up products PR agencies send my way, then ask if they can have them."

But the worst offender in her office was an editorial assistant who sat across from her cubicle.

"Every morning she'd make monkey noises, talk like Austin Powers," Lisa (not her real name) said. "Because she was a 'free spirit.'"

The kicker came when the assistant quit by leaving a voicemail on her boss's answering machine, cheerily informing her that she'd gotten a job someplace else and wouldn't be coming in any more.

But it's more than a matter of the office grump. A study from Public Agenda for the Pew Charitable Trusts released earlier this year found that 30 percent of people think that they "regularly come across rude people at the office."

A study published in the 2000 issue of Organizational Dynamics found 12 percent of those interviewed had quit a job because of rudeness in the office. Another 22 percent intentionally worked less hard because of the rudeness of bosses or co-workers, and 53 percent said they lost work worrying about past or potential rude interactions.

"Incivility has diminished morale, reduced efficiency and loyalty and, let's not forget the bottom line, profits," Giovinella Gonthier, president of Chicago-based Civility Associates, said. "It's a big problem, and it's permeated the business world."

Gonthier is author of a book called Rude Awakenings: Overcoming the Civility Crisis in the Workplace, which lists among the Top 10 most common complaints: Not holding a door open for other people; not greeting or acknowledging greetings from people in the hallway; people who don't wait for others to leave an elevator before entering themselves; and women who leave their restrooms in complete shambles.

"The last 15 or 20 years, the corporate world has spent millions of dollars on training people to work with machines and software, but humanware skills have been totally neglected," Gonthier said. "People can work effectively with machines but not with each other."

Marjorie Brody, president of Philadelphia-based Brody Communications and author of Help! Was That a Career Limiting Move? and Professional Impressions: Etiquette for Everyone, Every Day, also places the blame partially on the dot-com bubble.

"There were a lot of young people in the workplace who didn't understand the protocol of behavior," she said. "They walked out of school and were suddenly vice presidents driving their BMWs, and they were not stuck in the old ways. So we got an influx of a lot of young people with a lot of money in a hurry."

She said more and more people in the office are late for appointments, deceptive, cluttering up other people's physical and personal space, leaving on cell phones, and speaking too loudly. And it's been taking a toll.

"You spend more awake time in your office with your colleagues than you do at home with your family," she said. "You have to find ways to work together, or work will suffer."

Her solution? Spread the niceness. If a single person is civil to another, the recipient of that kindness will go out and be polite to the next, and so on, she said.

Gonthier said that, in addition to genuine niceness, people also need to call rude co-workers on their impoliteness or it may never stop.

"People are rude because they can be," she said. "It's that simple."