Ripple Effects: How Civility and Incivility Spread in Workplace Social Networks.



Over the last several decades, work has grown more interconnected increasing the importance of civil and uncivil workplace interactions for effective performance. Unfortunately, reports of workplace incivility have continued to rise and relatively little is known about how civility or incivility spreads in social networks. Using social exchange theory, we hypothesize how civility and incivility spread through reciprocity and third party exchanges (‘friends of friends’). In a longitudinal study of all employees in a research and development department of a biotechnology firm (n = 40), we find that civility grows through reciprocation and extension to third parties (transitive triplets). Incivility, however, does not spread in the network. Instead, perceptions of uncivil interactions multiply around those that already feel treated incivility, without a significant tendency of spilling over to others. We discuss theoretical and practical implications.