Cruelty Begets Cruelty: A Toxic Workplace Turns Women Into Worse Mothers, Study Finds

SAN FRANCISCO — The occasional rude remark is bound to occur in any office setting. Sadly, a new study finds that women who are subjected to incivility and harsh words in the workplace are more likely to engage in stricter, more authoritarian parenting practices at home that are bound to have a negative impact on their children.

“These findings reveal some previously undocumented ways that women, in particular, suffer as a result of workplace aggression,” says researcher Dr. Angela Dionisi of Carleton University in a release by the American Psychological Association. “In uncovering how this mistreatment in the workplace interferes with positive mother-child interactions, this research also speaks to a previously unacknowledged group of indirect incivility victims, namely children.”

The researchers defined workplace incivility as rude, disrespectful, impolite behavior, or any other conduct that violates normal workplace rules of respect and reveals a lack of concern for others. A few examples cited by the study include ignoring or making derogatory remarks about a co-worker, taking credit for the work of others, avoiding someone, excluding others from teams, or passing the blame for mistakes to others.

“We now know, based on much empirical evidence, that the outcomes of workplace incivility are vast and negative,” says co-author Dr. Kathryne Dupre. “For example, being on the receiving end of workplace incivility has been linked to lower levels of effort and performance on the job, higher levels of stress, and impaired attention, information processing and decision-making.”

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In order to better understand the dynamics of rudeness at work making its way into home life, the research team had 146 working mothers and their spouses fill out a survey. Each mom was asked about their personal experiences with incivility in the workplace, as well as their how effective they believe they are as a parent. Spouses were asked to articulate if their wives had any negative authoritarian or permissive parenting behaviors.

The survey results revealed a significant association between dealing with rudeness at work and authoritarian parenting among working mothers. However, there was no such association illustrated regarding permissive, or more lenient, parenting.

It is also noteworthy that rudeness at work seemed to cause many working mothers to feel as though they are not effective parents, which potentially explains why these moms would deem it necessary to engage in stricter parenting strategies.

According to researchers, authoritarian parents are extremely demanding of their children, yet also fail to provide their offspring with feedback and nurturance, instead opting to harshly punish the smallest of indiscretions. Micromanaging virtually every aspect of their child’s life is also a common trait among authoritarians.

“Research suggests that authoritarian parenting is more of a negative style of parenting as compared to other parenting styles. This style of parenting has been associated with a variety of negative child outcomes, including associating obedience and success with love, exhibiting aggressive behavior outside the home, being fearful or overly shy around others, having difficulty in social situations due to a lack of social competence, suffering from depression and anxiety, and struggling with self-control,” Dr. Dupre explains.

The study’s authors were especially shocked by how widespread the effects of rudeness at work were on working moms, considering the fact that most of society considers such behavior generally harmless or inconsequential.

“This is a form of mistreatment that many likely dismiss as non-effectual. It’s unpleasant, it’s frustrating, but it may boil down to one seeing a coworker behaving as a jerk. Our findings, however, suggest that this low-intensity behavior can actually erode one’s sense of parental competence, and as a result, may also be harming one’s children in a vicarious way,” Dr. Dionisi adds.

The research team hope that their work will help encourage organizations and companies to better understand and discourage a form of workplace mistreatment that largely flies under the radar.

The research was presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association in 2018.

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