Study: Rude Colleagues Cause More Workplace Errors

Rudeness in the workplace causes employees to make more mistakes, experts revealed Wednesday.

Workers who are treated unpleasantly, or witness colleagues being treated badly, make more errors than usual, studies showed.

“Human attention is powerfully driven by emotion,” said Professor Rhona Flin of the University of Aberdeen, in an editorial published in the British Medical Journal.

In one study, students who were insulted by a professor on the way to a test session performed worse on a series of memory tasks than the ones who were not spoken to rudely.

“This reaction is probably caused by the emotional arousal caused by the rudeness, which resulted in a switchover of cognitive capacity to deal with the required emotional processing, or it may, more simply, be caused by distraction,” said Flin.

In another test a student who was late for a group experiment apologized, but was told by the person in charge: “What is it with you? You arrive late... you are irresponsible... look at you ... how do you expect to hold down a job in the real world?”

This was delivered at a normal volume and the level of rudeness was not extreme, but students who witnessed the exchange then performed significantly worse on memory and creativity tasks than students in the control group who did not observe a rude interaction.

Flin believed the link between rudeness and mistakes was particularly worrying in the health care profession, where it could risk patients’ safety.

“Recent studies suggest that disagreements and aggression between clinical staff are not uncommon,” she wrote.

In a survey of 391 staff of operating rooms in British public hospitals, 66 percent of respondents said they had “received aggressive behavior” from nurses and 53 percent from surgeons during the previous six months.

“If incivility does occur in operating theaters and affects workers’ ability to perform tasks, the risks for surgical patients — whose treatment depends on particularly high levels of mental concentration and flawless task execution — could increase.”