Newsflash: working with people we don’t like makes us unhappy.
It’s not rocket science, we know, but a new study has delved deeper than common sense conclusions to explore how working with uncivil colleagues, impacts how happy we are in our relationships.
Be warned, the news isn’t pretty.
Published in the Journal of Management, the study called Emotional Mechanisms Linking Incivility at Work to Aggression and Withdrawal at Home, assessed the ways in which 50 participants (mostly women) were affected by a hostile working environment.
The researchers, lead by Sandy Lim, associate professor at the National University of Singapore, asked those taking part to document their emotional state each morning, and again during the afternoon - they noted any workplace incivilities too.
Each evening, the spouse or partner of the participant would report back on how they behaved at home that evening.
Unsurprisingly, when people had experienced a rough day at work at the hands of their rude or aggressive colleagues, they were more likely to behave in an aggressive or withdrawn manner at home.
“Our findings show that the experience of incivility was positively related to feelings of hostility, which was in turn associated with increased angry family behaviors, as rated by spouses,” writes Lim and her research team.
“This suggests that individual emotions do fluctuate on a day-to-day basis in response to incivility at work, and these emotional responses can have consequences even in the home environment.”
Though the results of the study may be somewhat predictable, the findings add to a growing body of research on social contagion; the idea that some social behaviours are ‘contagious’.
Working in an environment where we regularly deal with hostile encounters - putting people down or communicating in a condescending way were popular examples given in Lim’s study - can’t help but make us feel more angry, unhappy and hostile ourselves
Effectively, we end up passing on other people’s treatment of us.
The study backs up the importance for employers to foster a culture of positivity at work, and also negates theories that we can be one person in the office, and another at home.
Social psychologist Ellen Langer, perhaps sums up the solution best, with her response to an 2014 interview question:
“All the different, distinctions that we make, we make them mindfully, and then we start to use them mindlessly, forgetting that when we’re at work, we’re people. We have the same needs we had when we were on vacation. That when we’re talking to people, the people we’re talking to also have the same needs.
“The idea I think to replace work/life balance, which treats these categories as independent, is work/life integration. And you should get to the point where you’re treating yourself, whether you’re at work or at play, in basically the same way.”
In other words; play nice, and if you’ve had a bad day talk about it.
If Lim’s study has revealed anything, it's that internalising workplace hostility doesn’t have any positive payoff. Especially when it affects those you love.
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