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Why being cranky at work isn't the end of the world

While managerial literature has repeatedly shown that rudeness spreads quickly in a workplace, few studies have examined how this lack of courtesy affects the people who fall victim to it and those who perpetuate it.

Published: May 31, 2024 11:54:36 AM IST
Updated: May 31, 2024 01:14:39 PM IST

Why being cranky at work isn't the end of the worldEmployees who lose their cool in the office tend to quickly feel guilty about their behavior. Image: Shutterstock

It's not always easy to stay upbeat at work, as the worries of everyday life can soon take their toll on your mood. A bad night's sleep or an exhausting commute can quickly cause us to lose our cool, much to the annoyance of our colleagues. But while inconsiderate outbursts are regrettable, in the long term, they could encourage us to be kinder in the office.

So suggests research published in the Journal of Business Ethics. Its authors examined the repercussions of rudeness in the workplace. While managerial literature has repeatedly shown that rudeness spreads quickly in a workplace, few studies have looked at how this lack of courtesy affects the people who fall victim to it, and those who perpetuate it.

Researchers in the US asked employees to recall times when they had been rude to a coworker.

They found that workers who lose their temper in the office tend to quickly feel guilty. They often talk to their partner back home about their bad behavior. This is not surprising in itself: it's not uncommon for couples to talk about their respective working days over a drink or their evening meal.

But what is more surprising is that these conversations influence their behavior. In fact, employees who have been rude in the office the day before tend to be particularly pleasant the day after.

"Because you feel guilty, the next day at work, you work harder, and you’re more careful not to be rude again. It’s self-correcting over time. Which might explain why some people are rude some days and not rude other days," explains study coauthor, Klodiana Lanaj, quoted in a news release.

This shows that employees are much more concerned about their professional reputation than you might think. They don't want their shortcomings to affect how they are perceived, or for their colleagues -- and especially their superiors -- to see them as "the office grump." "When you’re being uncivil, it comes back to hurt you as well. Guilt is this complex phenomenon. It’s burdensome, but it can also help us recover by reducing incivility and engaging more at work," says study coauthor, Daniel Kim.

Also read: The lunch break may play a greater role in productivity than you think

So being rude at work might not always be so bad. But it's worth remembering that we should try, as much as possible, to show courtesy and respect in the professional sphere. It's much nicer to have a friendly relationship with your colleagues than to fear that one of them will let their frustration boil over in the office. People are happier working in a light-hearted atmosphere, where good manners are valued, than in a tense environment.