Colleagues Behaving Badly: Stress of Rude Co-Worker Can Affect Home Life

Study suggests bad feelings not left at the office.

ByABC News
August 22, 2011, 5:42 PM

Aug. 23, 2011— -- When it comes to dealing with a rude co-worker, recent research suggests the stress can be so intense that it can affect relationships outside of work and even lead a person's partner to take those same feelings into his or her workplace.

One woman who works at a public relations firm in southwest Florida and asked that her name be withheld because her company is so small, said she remembers the distress caused by an especially abrasive colleague.

"She walked into a client meeting and started criticizing the redecorating of the office, and she even told my boss that his receding hairline doesn't suit him," the employee recalled.

Although she tried to avoid her co-worker, the pent-up emotions carried over into her personal life.

"I was definitely frustrated, and I was always venting to my friends," she said.

A study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior found that employees who experience that same frustration over a disrespectful colleague often find their negative emotions cause strain in their relationships at home.

"The stress impacts the marital satisfaction of both partners," said Merideth Ferguson, the study's author and an assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship at the Baylor University Hankamer School of Business in Waco, Texas. "The rudeness jumps over to affect their partner's workplace and creates distraction and distress there."

Ferguson said she is unsure exactly how it happens, but theorizes that at least one reason is that the stress affects a person's ability to handle household responsibilities and in turn, that person's partner must take on more of the demands, which could spill over into the partner's work life.

"It's often a combination of problems at work that spill over to the home and problems at home that spill over to work," said Joshua Klapow, a clinical psychologist the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health. "It can be hard to tease them out."

Klapow was not involved in the research.