Stress, Rudeness and The American Workplace

For the past two weeks readers have responded to a fundamental etiquette question I posted on this blog. The survey was run by The Emily Post Institute and SurveyMonkey and asked readers: Are Americans ruder today than they were twenty or thirty years ago? The opinion, at least of readers of this column, is overwhelming: 82% answered: Yes, we are ruder today. When the American public was asked this question in 2005 in an AP/Ipsos survey (a joint survey conducted by Ipsos with the Associated Press), 69% indicated we are ruder today.

I’ve been impressed by the 69% number as being an indicator of the general frustration a clear majority of the public has with rudeness they are seeing and experiencing. I wanted to get a thumbnail opinion from readers to see if the number now was similar or had increased or decreased. Unfortunately, the number has increased.

The question is: Why?

Without question, the recession, which began in 2008 and which we continue to feel the effects of today both in our personal lives and our work lives, added stress for millions of people. Stress is insidious, as it can lead directly to rudeness. And, unfortunately, rudeness leads right back to more stress in a constantly recurring vicious circle that’s hard to break.

The stress/rudeness vicious circle is apparent in the workplace. It makes sense that business downsizing leads to stress for people laid off and also for the employees who are left as they are asked to do more with less and fear they may be next on the chopping block. Even worse is the stress that occurs when a business has to close its doors.


Technology has added stress in the workplace as well. Computers have increased efficiency which means workers are expected to accomplish more in less time—a recipe for added stress.

Work creep is also a by-product of technology and adds stress. Work creep refers to the ease with which work follows people home, blurring the lines between work and personal time. Not only can people easily bring work home for the evening, weekend or on vacation because of laptops and tablets, the connectivity of smartphones means business people are available 24/7, not just 9 to 5. It’s the unusual person who can ignore a text or email from a boss or colleague when they aren’t at work.

Among the various strategies businesses and individuals can adopt to help reduce stress and rudeness in the the workplace, one piece of advice stands out: Each of us is responsible for our own behavior. Therefore, how we choose to interact with the people in our business lives will directly impact the level of stress and rudeness in the workplace. Take a moment to reflect and ask yourself, “Do my actions just resolve a situation or do they solve the situation and also help build a stronger more positive relationship?”

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