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Bullied by your boss? Incivility thrives, study says

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They're everywhere, it seems: the supervisor who walks out during an employee presentation, the manager who overrides decisions without explanation, the boss who chews out employees publicly.

Workplace incivilities such as these are becoming the norm as the ranks of the etiquette-challenged grow, warns a business professor who has spent the past four years studying on-the-job behavior."It could be classified as schoolyard bully behavior," Christine Pearson said."The person is seen by targets as not only being purposeful, but also cunning. He or she picks the right timing and the right target so it won't impact his or her career or progress in the organization."

Companies have tended to ignore such behavior in the past, but Pearson's study said ignorance can be costly.

As part of her research, Pearson, a management professor at the business school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, sent out 4,000 questionnaires nationwide and received 775 back from men and women in various levels of business.

The respondents were asked to describe an unpleasant interaction in which they were the target of rudeness, insensitivity or disrespect and asked how they responded.

What she found was that victims of such bullying fight back against the employers rather than their tormentors.

Twelve percent said they intentionally decreased the quality of their work; 22 percent said they decreased their work effort; 28 percent said they lost work time trying to avoid the person; 52 percent said they lost time worrying about the person and the interaction; and 46 percent contemplated changing jobs. Twelve percent actually changed jobs to escape the bully.

"Think about the organizational costs tied to that one, in terms of replacing the individual," she said. "That alone makes this a phenomenon that people ought to be looking at."

Judith Martin, aka a.k.a. Miss Manners, the doyenne of etiquette whose three-times-a-week column is syndicated by United Features Syndicate, blamed the rude behavior, oddly enough, on the false friendships being bred in offices.

Rudeness isn't tolerated at SAS Institute in Cary, N.C., the largest privately held software company in the world, said David Russo, vice president of human resources.

"Incivility is not an accepted mode of behavior around here," he said. "Most of our employees who have any length of service with us understand we don't treat each other that way."