The Emotional Aftermath of Incivility: Anger, Guilt, and the Role of Organizational Commitment

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Abstract

Past research has demonstrated that everyday disrespect on the job (i.e., incivility) is a stressor that undermines personal and professional wellbeing. However, it remains unclear how incivility interferes with target wellbeing, and for whom. To shed light on this process, we investigate how emotional response (both global negative affect and facet-based discrete emotions—namely, anger and guilt) and organizational commitment mediate and moderate (respectively) incivility outcomes. Social Identity Theory and Affective Events Theory frame this work. We tested hypotheses using 2 samples: women working in the Midwest of the United States (N = 419) and women and men working across the United States (N = 479), including coworkers of those women and men (N = 160). We found incivility-driven emotion to mediate personal and professional outcomes, including reduced empowerment and self-esteem and greater job and work withdrawal. Feelings of guilt, but not anger, predicted decreased performance (as rated by coworkers). Significant interactive effects between incivility and commitment also emerged, such that individuals high in commitment reported more negative emotional response—especially guilt—compared to their less committed counterparts. These moderated-mediation results expose a dilemma when it comes to commitment: the people whom organizations value the most, those who are highly committed, are most harmed when interpersonal stressors arise.

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