Workplace Incivility: Investigating bystander behavior, well-being, and coping responses to perceived incivility

Kristoffer Holm

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (compilation)

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Workplace incivility has been found to be a ubiquitous phenomenon, with adverse effects for individuals, organizations and society. Over the past two decades, substantial research efforts have been made to increase knowledge about workplace incivility, including investigations of its targets and perpetrators. However, less research has been conducted on how workplace incivility impacts bystanders. Additionally, few studies have explored how individuals appraise and cope with experienced and witnessed workplace incivility. To address this research gap, the purpose of the present thesis is to contribute knowledge about the social process of workplace incivility. Specifically, the aim is to investigate the relationship between witnessed and instigated incivility as well as mediators and moderators of the relationship cross-sectionally in study I, and over time in study II. Study II also aims to explore the relationship between witnessed incivility and well-being over time, as well as a possible mediator of the relationship. Study III aims to contribute knowledge about coping processes associated with workplace incivility by investigating which types of appraisals and coping responses that are described as a result of experienced and witnessed workplace incivility.

Study I found that witnessed incivility, primarily from coworkers but also from supervisors, was positively related to instigated incivility. Perceived stress and job satisfaction did however not mediate the relationship between witnessed and instigated incivility. Witnessed coworker and supervisor incivility significantly interacted with control, social support from coworkers, and job embeddedness, predicting higher levels of instigated incivility. Additionally, a significant interaction between witnessed supervisor incivility and social support from supervisors was found. Results from study II showed that witnessed incivility was directly positively associated with instigated incivility over time, but the association was not stable across waves. Witnessed incivility was not directly related to wellbeing over time. Perceived organizational justice did neither mediate the relationship between witnessed and instigated incivility, nor between witnessed incivility and well-being over time. Control, social support from supervisors, and job embeddedness moderated the relationship between witnessed and instigated incivility over time, strengthening the association when levels of the moderators were high. The interactions were however not consistently observed over measurement waves. Study III found that experienced and witnessed incivility was primarily appraised as stressful, and that several different types of coping responses were elicited, such as active, passive, and pro-active coping behaviors. The process of coping with incivility was also tightly linked to the social process of how uncivil behaviors are transmitted through the workplace.

Taken together, the findings of the present thesis indicate that witnessed incivility may influence the bystanders’ behavior both in the short and long term, whereas well-being outcomes were more pronounced in the short term. Additionally, psychosocial work factors may enhance the spread of uncivil workplace behaviors. Lastly, individuals use a variety of responses to cope with workplace incivility, which may in turn result in the maintenance of an uncivil workplace culture. Overall, incivility in the workplace is a complex social phenomenon, with implications for bystanders’ behavior, well-being, and coping responses.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of Psychology
  • Torkelson, Eva, Supervisor
  • Bäckström, Martin, Supervisor
Award date2021 Feb 19
Place of PublicationLund
ISBN (Print)978-91-7895-737-8
ISBN (electronic) 978-91-7895-738-5
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Defence details
Date: 2021-02-19
Time: 10:00
Place: zoom
External reviewer(s)
Name: Sverke, Magnus
Title: Professor
Affiliation: Stockholm University

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Psychology


  • Workplace Incivility
  • Bystander
  • Social Learning Theory
  • Coping
  • Workplace Behavior
  • Well-Being


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