What a Rude E-Mail! Examining the Differential Effects of Incivility Versus Support on Mood, Energy, Engagement, and Performance in an Online Context

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Abstract

Existing research on workplace incivility has demonstrated an association with a host of negative outcomes, including increased burnout, turnover intentions, and physical symptoms. With the rise in Internet communication over the last decade, interpersonal mistreatment has spilled over to the Internet, but little is known about the impact of incivility communicated via e-mail on employee psychological and performance outcomes. The current study presents a within-subjects experiment wherein incivility and support were manipulated in a laboratory-based simulated workplace setting. Eighty-four participants completed a series of math tasks while interacting with either an uncivil or a supportive supervisor via e-mail. Data were collected on energy, cardiac activity, mood, task performance, and engagement. Findings indicate that participants reported higher levels of negative affect and lower levels of energy after working with the uncivil supervisor than with the supportive supervisor. Additionally, participants performed significantly worse on the math tasks and had lower engagement in the uncivil condition than the supportive condition, and these relationships were mediated by energy. No differences were found in cardiac activity between the two conditions. Results are discussed in terms of their implications for the 21st century world of work.

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