PhotoEvery four years, a presidential campaign seems to always bring out the conflicts, especially on social media, where people never shy away from expressing their political leanings.

This year? Fasten your seat belts.

The New York Times reports the contest between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton even threatens marriages. In one case, it says a dentist who said he plans to vote for Trump was threatened with divorce by his physician wife, a Clinton supporter.

It's not just that people hold opposing views and values. It's the mean and often insensitive way they are expressed, says Russell Johnson and his Michigan State colleagues, who have published a study of rude and insensitive behavior – often politically inspired – in the workplace. Johnson worries about the effects of this behavior.

Mentally fatigued

"People who are recipients of incivility at work feel mentally fatigued as a result, because uncivil behaviors are somewhat ambiguous and require employees to figure out whether there was any abusive intent," said Johnson, associate professor of management at Michigan State. "This mental fatigue, in turn, led them to act uncivil toward other workers. In other words, they paid the incivility forward."

So the situation doesn't get better, it gets worse.

Johnson stresses that the researchers didn't witness openly hostile behavior, or bullying. Instead, it was more passive-aggressive in nature, with curt remarks and put-downs, of the sort viewers often see on cable TV shows, where talking heads of different political persuasions face off for some verbal jousting.

Johnson says when this sort of thing is replicated in the workplace, there are real costs. He estimates workplace incivility has doubled over the past two decades and can cost companies $14,000 per employee in lost production and work time.

Incivility spirals

One of the most intriguing aspects of the study, says Johnson, is the finding that incivility seems to feed on itself. He calls it "incivility spirals" - when acts of incivility lead to more incivility.

"When employees are mentally fatigued, it is more difficult for them to keep their negative impulses and emotions in check, which leads them to be condescending and rude to colleagues," Johnson said.

Even employees who think of themselves as agreeable and polite can succumb when subjected to ongoing uncivil behavior. Johnson says the sapping of their emotional energy leaves them unable to filter their comments.

Johnson's advice? Companies should address the issue now, providing employees with clear guidance for avoiding political commentary if it cannot be done in a civil manner.

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