Study Shows Rudeness is Contagious in the Workplace

Have you ever worked at a place where the vibe just sucked all around?

New research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology has found that rudeness in the workplace is not only pretty brutal, but it’s also contagious.

A University of Florida study found that encountering rude behaviour at work makes people more likely to perceive rudeness in later interactions. They are more likely to be rude in return, spreading bad vibes through the workplace like the plague.


The findings mark the first evidence that everyday impoliteness is contagious in the workplace. Once it becomes commonplace, it makes for a pretty toxic work environment, like one big dysfunctional family.

And that’s definitely not a good thing, considering that most of us spend more time at work than at home.

The study tracked 90 graduate students who were practicing negotiation with classmates. Those who rated their initial negotiation partner as rude were more likely to be rated as rude by a subsequent partner. This reveals a snowball effect when it comes to passing along rudeness. Surprisingly, the effect continued even when a week elapsed between the first and second negotiations (meaning, taking a vacation isn’t going to solve your problems).

The study also found that rudeness directed at others can prepare our brains to detect such disrespect. Researchers tested how quickly 47 undergraduate students could identify which words in a list were real and which were “nonsense words.”

Prior to the exercise, participants observed one of two staged interactions between an apologetic late arriver and the study leader. The researchers found that when the leader treated the latecomer rudely, the participants identified rude words on the list as real words much quicker than participants who had observed the neutral interaction.

That’s not all, though; the people who witness rudeness are more likely to be rude to others.

The participants watched a video of a rude workplace interaction, then replied to a fictitious customer email that had a neutral tone. Those who watched the video beforehand were more likely to be rude in their responses than those who viewed a polite interaction before responding.

We wonder what what happen if the study was reversed and everyone were nice to one another…