Rudeness in the workplace

Two researchers at Victoria University of Wellington, Dr Geoff Plimmer and Ao Zhou (Ollie), a PhD student, are investigating the impact of rudeness, termed incivility in the academic literature, on workplace individuals, teams and organisations. Incivility matters because it potentially damages employee confidence and wellbeing, triggers depression, lowers productivity and increases turnover (Pearson, Andersson & Porath, 2005). It also harms the effective functioning of groups and is hard to address. The VUW researchers are looking at these latter two areas.

Incivility includes “low-intensity deviant (rude, discourteous) behaviour with ambiguous intent to harm the target in violation of workplace norms for mutual respect” (Andersson and Pearson, 1999 p.457). It can include ostensibly ‘small’ behaviours such as excluding people from meetings, ignoring people, or cutting them off when they are speaking. Some argue that it is a means of covert discrimination against minorities, and that it is a precursor to sexual harassment. It also elicits tit-for-tat retaliation, harms witnesses as well as direct targets, undermines trust, creative thinking and the free generation and flow of ideas. It also threatens the work environment and spills over into home life (Schilpzand et al, 2014).

How incivility influences individual and groups over time.

Most studies treat incivility as an event, but it also seems to be a process that unfolds over time with people changing roles as they, and the group climate change. Harmful behaviours certainly happen in NZ workplaces (Plimmer et al., 2017), but not surprisingly, it also happens internationally (Yao et al., 2021), and of course it can also happen online, during remote work (Akella & Lewis, 2019). While the nature of incivility varies, and it might be more common in some places than in others, we have found no research that its harmful effects markedly differ.

How to address incivility

Most workplace incivility studies have been concerned with the employees’ point of view, and so neglect the role of line managers and leadership (Pearson & Porath, 2005). For a whole host of reasons, probably including low ability, motivation and opportunity, managers seem to have a lot of difficulty dealing with incivility in their workgroup, and of course they also can be the perpetrators. In our research, we hope to find ideas and techniques that help both managers and organisations address it effectively.

We aim to collect data next year. If people are interested in participating in this research, please contact or

All references can be found here>>