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Read time9 mins

The frequency of toxic behaviour in the workplace

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How often do people behave badly at work?

Frequency of toxic behaviour in the workplace

How often does toxic behaviour arise within the workplace? Based on our research we discovered that negative behaviours are occurring regularly but often goes unreported.

SACS conducted a confidential survey were thousands of people responded honestly about the good and bad things that they had done at work such as intentional impoliteness, snubbing and bullying. We found the tendency to undertake negative behaviours varies by age also these behaviours are more likely to be taking place at times when people are under more stress.

Read on to learn more.

How often do people behave badly at work?

Watch the video to discover how often people are engaging in toxic behaviours at work, like ignoring others or being rude, and the incidence across genders and age groups.

Watch the next video in this series here:

Part 8 – Pre-Employment Testing to Avoid Toxic Hires

And watch the previous video here:

Part 6 – How Do Values Influence Toxic Behaviour?

And if you know of anyone who would benefit from this video, please share it with them.

Video Transcript

Hi, Andrew from SACS, and welcome to video number seven in our 11 video series on toxic behaviours in the workplace.

This video will be giving you some fascinating research findings about how much toxic behaviour happens in the work world.

We’ve measured this in thousands of cases for purely scientific reasons and also in workplaces where people are seeking to understand the behaviours that they’re seeing, and what we’ll be showing you is a summary of some of the key findings.

Intentional impoliteness

So the first thing is intentional impoliteness (refer to video) to other people at work. 0.3 of 1% do this extremely frequently.

By the way, if you employ over 1,000 people, well, obviously 0.3 of 1% is not no one, but then frequently is 0.8%.

So you’ve got this 1.2% of people who are kind of doing this relatively frequently, and that’s about one person in 100, so that’s not nothing, and especially when you consider the effect that negative behaviours like that have on colleagues.

But when you talk about people doing it sometimes or more frequently being intentionally impolite to other people, you’re talking about 15% of the workforce.

So imagine if you’ve got 100 people working in a workplace and 15 of them are being intentionally impolite to other people.

Well, that’s obviously going to affect the wellbeing of the other 85.

Now, what does it mean when somebody says that they sometimes do this? But what it means is that they usually can remember more than one event where they have done this in recent times.

So that’s actually quite a lot when you think of that, 15% of the workforce acting consistently in this way.

So, what that means is that what you see in your organisation reported is a vast underreporting because we don’t get this kind of volume of complaints, do we? From workforces in general.

But 15% of the workforce is confessing to have done this stuff somewhere between extremely frequently and sometimes, which means that they’ve done it recently.

Ignoring and snubbing

How about ignoring, snubbing, excluding other people? Now, you’d hope that this sort of relatively schoolyard kind of behaviour wouldn’t happen much in an adult workplace but it happens a lot.

So what this is showing you is that 0.6% of the population is doing this extremely frequently, but if you add this to the proportion of the population that’s doing it frequently, you’re getting over 5% of the population who are regularly ignoring or snubbing people.

Yeah, that wouldn’t sound like much, but I’ve seen people who’ve been bullied by exclusion, that’s what it’s called in the sort of judicial world, bullying by exclusion is where people are ignoring people, snubbing people, not including them in things, and it’s a very severe form of bullying.

Human beings need to belong, we are social primates, and so if we are being excluded by other people, and the sociologists call this othering people, when people are being othered by their colleagues, that’s a very serious thing, and it’s a very significant effect on wellbeing.

So over 5% of the people are doing this frequently or extremely frequently.

But how about when we look at the people who are doing it sometimes? Well, in fact, it adds up to about 41% of the workforce is doing this sometimes or more frequently.

So, there is a lot of interpersonal grief going on in the average workplace, and the degree to which people are able to cope with that of course depends very much on their makeup, and we talked in the last couple of videos about personality and how that affects those kinds of things, some people are more sensitive than others, but certainly it’s a worry that this stuff is happening so frequently.

Men vs women

This diagram (refer to video) shows male versus female and it measures counterproductive work behaviours which are interpersonal.

And I guess one of the things that we are seeing here is that these are counterproductive work behaviours at different age levels, so 30 years and younger, 31 to 40, 41 to 50, 51 years and older.

And so these are the interpersonal counterproductive work behaviours, by the way, this sample was thousands and thousands of people like five, 6,000 people, so that’s a very big sample to build this data on. And we ask people questions about their negative behaviours towards other people.

And what we see is that men tend to have higher negative behaviours towards other people than women at any age.

This is partially due to a thing called the people versus things effect.

Men tend to be more interested in things and more committed to things, women tend to be more committed to and interested in people.

So women tend to be of their very nature in groups, more compassionate, more caring, more supportive.

So that’s not a myth, I mean, that’s demonstrated across the world, women tend to be better to be around, which is, by the way, an extremely good reason for having equal opportunity for women to be represented in company administration, governments, those kinds of things, because, well, women are frankly less likely to go to war than men because they see the human implications of that kind of thing.

The combination of men and women in the right positions can be a good balance for an organisation, and certainly women, as we know, are vastly underrepresented in leadership in many organisations and that should change.

What we see here is that men as they age, their tendency to undertake negative behaviours declines almost in a straight line, why?

It may well be the decline in testosterone as we age because testosterone can make people more aggressive, more negative, in terms of interpersonal conflict, whereas women you’ll notice start exceptionally low, 30 years or younger, and then they have this big jump from the point of view of negative behaviours.

Why? Well, I’ve shown this data to a range of different people who are associated with similar sorts of research, and it’s theorised that maybe the stress of child rearing is part of what’s going on there, in other words, often in that sort of age group of 31 to 40, you’re really looking at a time when women are trying to juggle home responsibilities and work responsibilities, and there’s stress associated with that.

We also know that stress can make people behave more negatively, because what we find is that when women reach 41 to 50 years of age, there’s a significant drop of the levels of negative interpersonal behaviour, and it may well be that the pressure of childbearing has eased largely because they’ve got used to it. I think what’s also interesting to see is that there’s absolutely no similar effect for men, so it’s clear as to who’s bearing the burden of child rearing, isn’t it?

I mean, clearly you don’t see a lift in the negative behaviours of men during that time, so presumably the levels of stress haven’t, on average, increased that much for them.

Now, once more, this plays out very differently at an individual level, remember, we are talking about large samples here so we can’t draw conclusions about individuals.

Now, what we also see is that women’s behaviour towards people does become a little bit more negative again as they get past 51 years of age, and I’ll leave you to theorise as to why that’s the case but certainly that’s been observed in a range of different settings around the world.

So, to summarise what we know about negative behaviours at work, there’s a lot of it going on.

You can see this by people’s self-admission, so they were asked about the negative behaviours that they undertake at work and they were confessing these in these surveys.

But of course, what this also means is that it’s vastly underrepresented in your HR strategies and your HR data, because much of it is going underreported based on this information.

Also, what we see is that at various age groups there’s varying tendencies to be likely to undertake negative behaviours, and certainly if negative behaviours are more likely to be taking place at times when people are under more stress, that’s a strong argument for organisations going out of their way to provide as effective work-life balance as possible, particularly for parents where there’s a challenge between juggling family responsibilities and work responsibilities.

So the next video in this sequence will be a summary of how to use integrated pre-employment testing to avoid hiring people who will behave toxically.

Join us for the next video to find out how to do that.

Watch the next video in this series to find out more about dealing with toxic employees:

Part 8 – Pre-Employment Testing to Avoid Toxic Hires

And watch the previous video here:

Part 6 – How Do Values Influence Toxic Behaviour?

And if you’d like some help screening future hires for toxic behaviour, contact us about our Psychometric Assessment Tools.

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