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Incivility at work—low intensity deviant behaviors with an ambiguous intent to harm—has been on the rise, yielding negative consequences for employees’ well-being and companies’ bottom-lines. Although examinations of incivility have gained momentum in organizational research, theory and empirical tests involving dynamic, within-person processes associated with this negative interpersonal behavior are limited. Drawing from ego depletion theory, we test how experiencing incivility precipitates instigating incivility towards others at work via reduced self-control. Using an experience sampling design across two work weeks, we found that experiencing incivility earlier in the day reduced one’s levels of self-control (captured via a performance-based measure of self-control), which in turn resulted in increased instigated incivility later in the day. Moreover, organizational politics—a stable, environmental factor—strengthened the relation between experienced incivility and reduced self-control, whereas construal level—a stable, personal factor—weakened the relation between reduced self-control and instigated incivility. Combined, our results yield multiple theoretical, empirical, and practical implications for the study of incivility at work.
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Journal of Applied Psychology
Who Strikes Back? A Daily Investigation of When and Why
Incivility Begets Incivility
Christopher C. Rosen, Joel Koopman, Allison S. Gabriel, and Russell E. Johnson
Online First Publication, August 8, 2016.
Rosen, C. C., Koopman, J., Gabriel, A. S., & Johnson, R. E. (2016, August 8). Who Strikes Back? A
Daily Investigation of When and Why Incivility Begets Incivility. Journal of Applied Psychology.
Advance online publication.
Who Strikes Back? A Daily Investigation of When and Why Incivility
Begets Incivility
Christopher C. Rosen
University of Arkansas
Joel Koopman
University of Cincinnati
Allison S. Gabriel
University of Arizona
Russell E. Johnson
Michigan State University
Incivility at work—low intensity deviant behaviors with an ambiguous intent to harm— has been on the
rise, yielding negative consequences for employees’ well-being and companies’ bottom-lines. Although
examinations of incivility have gained momentum in organizational research, theory and empirical tests
involving dynamic, within-person processes associated with this negative interpersonal behavior are
limited. Drawing from ego depletion theory, we test how experiencing incivility precipitates instigating
incivility toward others at work via reduced self-control. Using an experience sampling design across 2
work weeks, we found that experiencing incivility earlier in the day reduced one’s levels of self-control
(captured via a performance-based measure of self-control), which in turn resulted in increased instigated
incivility later in the day. Moreover, organizational politics—a stable, environmental factor—
strengthened the relation between experienced incivility and reduced self-control, whereas construal
level—a stable, personal factor—weakened the relation between reduced self-control and instigated
incivility. Combined, our results yield multiple theoretical, empirical, and practical implications for the
study of incivility at work.
Keywords: incivility, ego depletion, construal level, organizational politics, experience sampling
Workplace incivility refers to “low intensity deviant behavior
with ambiguous intent to harm the target, in violation of workplace
norms for mutual respect” (Andersson & Pearson, 1999, p. 457).
Examples of incivility include discourteous and rude behaviors,
such as making derogatory remarks, ignoring coworkers, and using
a condescending tone (Blau & Andersson, 2005; Cortina, Magley,
Williams, & Langhout, 2001). Incivility is ubiquitous and on the
rise in organizations, with estimates indicating that the experience
of incivility has doubled over the past two decades (Porath &
Pearson, 2013; Schilpzand, De Pater, & Erez, 2016). Moreover,
incivility has a large financial impact on companies, with the
annual cost of experiencing incivility estimated at $14,000 per
employee (Porath & Pearson, 2010).
To date, the majority of research has investigated consequences
of experiencing incivility, with the general focus on identifying
effects of incivility on job attitudes and performance (Schilpzand
et al., 2016). There is, however, increasing interest in understand-
ing precursors to enactment of incivility (i.e., instigated incivility).
Similar to other forms of deviance, researchers have suggested that
incivility may be socially learned, such that it is observed and
enacted by those who experience it (Bandura, 1973; Lim, Cortina,
& Magley, 2008; Robinson & O’Leary-Kelly, 1998). Supporting
this perspective, and consistent with the notion of incivility spirals
(i.e., when employees who experience incivility ‘pay it forward’
by subsequently instigating incivility themselves; Masuch, 1985),
as well as contagion models which suggest that employees may
“catch” negative behavior from others (Foulk, Woolum, & Erez,
2016), prior research has reported a positive relationship between
experienced and instigated incivility (Meier & Gross, 2015). How-
ever, it is not clear why and when such effects occur.
A potentially useful way for understanding incivility is via a
self-regulation framework, which describes how people regulate
behavior so that it corresponds to work goals and norms (Lord,
Diefendorff, Schmidt, & Hall, 2010). Instances of incivility can be
thought of as self-regulatory failures because they deviate from
Christopher C. Rosen, Department of Management, University of Ar-
kansas; Joel Koopman, Department of Management, University of Cincin-
nati; Allison S. Gabriel, Department of Management and Organizations,
University of Arizona; Russell E. Johnson, Department of Management,
Michigan State University.
A version of this article was presented at the 31st Annual Society for
Industrial and Organizational Psychology Conference, Anaheim, CA. A
portion of the work on this article was completed while Christopher C.
Rosen was a visiting faculty member at Texas Christian University in the
Department of Management, Entrepreneurship, & Leadership, and we
thank Abbie Shipp, Hettie Richardson, Brad Harris, Michael Cole, Mary
Uhl-Bien, Ryan Krause, Jon Carr and Keith Hmieleski for their comments
and feedback. We also thank Chili G. Rossetti and Oscar Shatner for their
administrative and data collection support.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Christo-
pher C. Rosen, Sam M. Walton College of Business, University of Arkan-
sas, Fayetteville, AR 72701. Email:
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
Journal of Applied Psychology © 2016 American Psychological Association
2016, Vol. 101, No. 8, 000 0021-9010/16/$12.00
workplace norms for mutual respect (Andersson & Pearson, 1999).
To avoid such failures, successful self-regulation requires self-
control; that is, it requires that employees have sufficient atten-
tional resources to maintain goal content in memory and block
competing and irrelevant information (e.g., Johnson, Chang, &
Lord, 2006). When attentional resources are diminished, it be-
comes more difficult for employees to act in a manner consistent
with interpersonal norms (e.g., being patient) and suppress acts
that deviate from such norms (e.g., making rude remarks; Christian
& Ellis, 2011; Lin, Ma, & Johnson, 2016).
Consistent with this perspective, Meier and Gross (2015) sug-
gested that self-regulatory capacities moderate effects of experi-
enced incivility on instigated incivility. Supplemental analyses
from their study indicated two important findings: (a) employees
suffering from exhaustion before work were less capable of inhib-
iting urges to reciprocate incivility during the day, and (b) the
strongest relationships between experienced and instigated incivil-
ity occurred during relatively short time frames (i.e., less than 4
hr). Unfortunately, these authors were unable to examine fluctua-
tions in self-regulatory capacities during the day, nor could their
model account for how experiencing incivility might deplete the
attentional resources necessary for self-regulation. Thus, the self-
regulatory mechanism that links experienced to instigated incivil-
ity remains unclear. In an effort to better understand when and why
incivility occurs, we extend Meier and Gross’ (2015) research by
drawing from a specific theory of self-regulation in which self-
control places a central role, namely ego depletion theory
(Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Muraven, & Tice, 1998). This theory is
well-suited for our purpose because it speaks directly to the role of
attentional resources for regulating behavior, and it recognizes the
dynamic nature of self-control, specifying that attentional re-
sources ebb and flow during the day.
The central aim of our study is, thus, to broaden theory on
workplace incivility by developing and testing a conceptual model
(see Figure 1) that explains how dynamic ego depletion processes
link experienced incivility to instigated incivility, turning victims
of incivility into perpetrators. Examining this process through the
lens of ego depletion offers some key insights to the incivility
literature. First, previous studies have focused almost exclusively
on chronic forms of incivility that occur on average during un-
specified periods of time, which overlooks the dynamic and tem-
poral nature of incivility and its effects (Cole, Shipp, & Taylor,
2015). Consistent with ego depletion theory, we consider a dy-
namic process that explains why employees become more uncivil
after experiencing incivility from others. Although there is value in
understanding consequences of chronic incivility, incivility expe-
riences in situ may in fact be more impactful given that targets of
incivility are unlikely to understand or resolve such experiences in
the short term (Schilpzand et al., 2016). Building on recent evi-
dence that incivility impacts employees on shorter time cycles
(e.g., Meier & Gross, 2015; Zhou, Yan, Che, & Meier, 2015), we
used experience sampling methodology to (a) assess proximal
effects of experienced incivility, (b) capture the dynamic nature of
incivility as it unfolds across brief cycles, and (c) directly test
momentary ebbs and flows in self-control as posited by ego
depletion theory.
Second, prior research has focused primarily on affective con-
sequences of incivility, such as negative mood, dissatisfaction, and
emotional exhaustion (Lim et al., 2008; Penney & Spector, 2005).
Unfortunately, cognitive consequences of incivility have received
far less attention, despite the fact that the self-regulation of behav-
ior involves both affective and cognitive processes (Lord et al.,
2010). For example, the activation of rudeness-related concepts in
semantic memory is a cognitive mechanism that helps explain how
rudeness spreads from one person to another (Foulk et al., 2016).
Based on ego depletion theory, a reduction in attentional resources
may be another cognitive mechanism that explains how victims of
incivility become instigators. It is important to note that self-
control and attentional resources operate independent of affective
states and processes (e.g., demanding activities may leave people
feeling depleted, but not necessarily happy or sad; Baumeister et
al., 1998). Thus, what is known about the affective consequences
of incivility does not inform our understanding of its cognitive
A third contribution pertains to our use of a performance-based
measure of attentional resources. Ego depletion theory posits that
difficult and/or stressful experiences reduce one’s available atten-
tional resources. Assessing depletion in field settings is difficult
and, to date, organizational scholars (e.g., Christian, Eisenkraft, &
Kapadia, 2015; Johnson, Lanaj, & Barnes, 2014; Lanaj, Johnson,
& Barnes, 2014) have captured available resources subjectively via
self-reports of mental fatigue or self-control. However, self-reports
may be biased by stable (e.g., personality) and transient (e.g.,
mood) factors (Uhlmann et al., 2012), and people are not always
accurate at judging their capabilities (Kruger & Dunning, 1999).
The performance-based assessment used in the current study—the
Figure 1. Theoretical model.
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Stroop test (Stroop, 1935)—is a more direct measure of attentional
resources and is less susceptible to perceptual biases.
Lastly, our framework highlights potentially important environ-
mental and personal factors that may amplify the causes (i.e.,
workplace politics) and attenuate the consequences (i.e., construal
level) of diminished attentional resources. As shown in Figure 1,
we theorize and test whether failures in self-control that prompt
incivility are more likely in more ambiguous and uncertain envi-
ronments (i.e., when politics are high) and for employees who are
less sensitive to the self-referenced meaning of their actions (i.e.,
those with a low construal level). If so, then managing perceptions
of politics and eliciting a higher construal level are actionable steps
that can be taken to counteract depletion and contagion effects of
Background, Theory, and Hypotheses
Workplace Incivility
Workplace incivility overlaps with other negative interpersonal
behaviors, such as abusive supervision, counterproductive work
behavior, and bullying (Hershcovis, 2011). Nonetheless, incivility
is distinguishable from other forms of mistreatment for a few
reasons. First, incivility is relatively low in intensity. For example,
compared with the interpersonal deviance dimension of counter-
productive work behavior and bullying, incivility does not involve
openly hostile behavior, threats, or sabotage (Spector & Fox,
2005). As such, incivility is more benign and does not warrant the
same legal attention or formal sanctions as other forms of mis-
treatment (Lim et al., 2008). Yet, it is a relatively frequent,
low-intensity negative behavior that has a substantial impact on
employees (Andersson & Pearson, 1999).
Second, although other forms of mistreatment (e.g., abusive
supervision) focus on interactions with those in positions of au-
thority (e.g., supervisors), incivility is not limited to such interac-
tions and may emanate from coworkers (Schilpzand et al., 2016).
Thus, incivility is not restricted to contexts where there is a power
difference between the actor and the target, which may affect how
targets perceive and interpret threats around incivility (Meier &
Gross, 2015; Spector & Fox, 2005). Given that we examine how
incivility begets incivility within a short time-frame, we focus on
coworker incivility because employees tend to have a greater
number of daily interactions with coworkers relative to supervi-
Finally, the intent of workplace incivility is ambiguous, whereas
other forms of mistreatment are acts of aggression with clear intent
to harm the target (Blau & Andersson, 2005). Thus, actors can
easily deny harmful intent or attribute it to a misunderstanding on
the part of a target (Spector & Fox, 2005). This further explains
why incivility might be more commonplace than other negative
behaviors, given that actors generally do not have to accept, or
admit, responsibility for uncivil acts.
In sum, there is some overlap among different organizational
mistreatment constructs, but there are important distinctions that
have implications for how targets experience incivility relative to
more overt forms of misconduct. In addition, because incivility (a)
reflects a mild form of mistreatment that is likely to go unpun-
ished, (b) is not limited to interactions with those in authority
positions, and (c) is easily denied and therefore excused, it occurs
more frequently than other forms of mistreatment and, thus, has
the potential to create a noxious social environment (Lim et al.,
2008). Supporting this, accumulating research (e.g., Cortina et al.,
2001; Lim & Cortina, 2005; Penney & Spector, 2005) indicates
that incivility is widespread and, regardless of its source (e.g.,
coworker or supervisor), is linked to a variety of strains (e.g.,
emotional exhaustion, ill health) and has detrimental relations with
desirable work attitudes and performance behaviors.
Despite the abundance of incivility research, relatively less is
known about why employees instigate incivility. A popular theory
for explaining how incivility comes to permeate organizations is
Andersson and Pearson’s (1999) social interactionist framework,
which suggests that incivility begets incivility. That is, incivility
has the potential to spread from perpetrators to targets who ‘pay it
forward’ by being uncivil toward others, which Foulk et al. (2016)
recently likened to a viral contagion process. Although there is
mounting evidence indicating that incivility may crossover from
one coworker to another, the veracity of the social interactionist
framework has not been tested (Schilpzand et al., 2016). For
example, studies considering antecedents of instigated incivility
(e.g., Cortina et al., 2001; Meier, Gross, Spector, & Semmer, 2013)
have largely focused on one-time interactions between individuals,
without considering mechanisms that explain why individuals en-
act incivility after being the target of such acts (Schilpzand et al.,
2016). As mentioned earlier, self-regulation theories in general and
ego depletion theory in particular suggest that one such cognitive
mechanism may be self-control, given that experienced incivility
functions as a demand that requires attentional resources to make
sense of and cope with the experience (Porath & Erez, 2007).
Thus, owing to its focus on how demands consume attentional
resources and how such resources fuel self-control, we draw from
ego depletion theory to help explain crossover effects of incivility
from one employee to another.
Experienced Incivility and Ego Depletion
Ego depletion theory suggests that people have limited re-
sources (e.g., attention, energy) that are used to regulate behavior
(Baumeister et al., 1998). These resources sustain executive func-
tioning that enable people to move toward goal states while sup-
pressing impulses. According to ego depletion theory (and other
resource allocation theories; e.g., Kanfer & Ackerman, 1989),
whenever people engage in activities requiring high degrees of
self-control (e.g., careful focus, suppressing irrelevant thoughts),
attentional resources are consumed, thus diminishing their capacity
for attention and self-control on ensuing activities (Baumeister,
Vohs, & Tice, 2007). When attentional resources are depleted, it is
difficult for people to regulate behavior to be consistent with goals
and norms (e.g., exerting effort, being courteous) and quell oppos-
ing urges (e.g., attending to off-task demands, expressing annoy-
ance; Lin et al., 2016).
Experienced incivility likely diminishes self-control because
employees must expend attentional resources to (a) understand
intentions of perpetrators, (b) formulate and inhibit responses, and
(c) manage frustration and emotional burdens as the recipients of
incivility. Though prior research has not directly evaluated
changes in self-control or attentional resources as a function of
incivility, it provides indirect evidence that episodic exposure to
incivility is positively associated with symptoms of reduced atten-
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This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
tion and willpower (e.g., burnout; Nicholson & Griffin, 2015;
Taylor, Bedeian, Cole, & Zhang, in press; Zhou et al., 2015).
Based on theory and relevant empirical findings, we expect that,
on a daily basis, being the target of incivility will be associated
with decreased self-control because targets of incivility must allo-
cate attentional resources to make sense of and regulate responses
to incivility.
Hypothesis 1: On a daily basis, experiencing incivility at work
will be positively related to a decrease in self-control.
Although attentional resources are consumed by the cognitively
demanding activity of deciphering the reasons for experienced
incivility and controlling any spontaneous reactions that stem from
it, such information processing does not occur in a vacuum.
Rather, cognitive demands associated with understanding experi-
enced incivility are influenced by the broader social context in
which it occurs. According to ego depletion theory, greater self-
control and attentional resources are needed in complex and am-
biguous social environments, such as ones in which the activities
of others are less predictable, motives are obscured or hidden, and
intentionality is difficult to discern (Baumeister et al., 2007). These
qualities exemplify social environments at work that are labeled as
being highly political.
Organizational politics refers to the extent to which the work
environment is typified by informal and unsanctioned employee
activities aimed at promoting self-interests without concern for the
welfare of others (Chang, Rosen, & Levy, 2009). In political
environments, motives guiding behavior are less clear (e.g., im-
pression management and other subtle influence tactics are used as
a means of getting ahead), behaviors satisfy self-interests at the
expense of others, and power bases are in a state of flux (Hall,
Hochwarter, Ferris, & Bowen, 2004). As a result, there is more
uncertainty surrounding interpersonal relationships in political en-
vironments (Rosen, Ferris, Brown, Chen, & Yan, 2014). Given
that self-regulation is more depleting in uncertain and uncontrol-
lable environments (Baumeister et al., 2007), organizational poli-
tics likely play a key role in determining the extent to which
experienced incivility is depleting.
When individuals encounter an interpersonal stressor like inci-
vility, they appraisal the extent to which it is relevant, challenging,
and controllable (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). It can then be de-
termined whether the stressor is a threat to well-being and an
appropriate response can be enacted. This attributional information
processing places onerous demands on attentional resources, as
individuals must focus on identifying, evaluating, and formulating
responses to complex social information (Muraven & Baumeister,
2000). Because incivility has ambiguous intent, it is difficult to
assess the extent to which it presents a threat to the self. Employees
tend to respond to such ambiguity by drawing on information from
the broader work environment to help them understand the uncer-
tainty they encounter during social interactions (Salancik & Pfef-
fer, 1978). Thus, when employees experience incivility, they direct
attention to the social context in which relationships are embedded
to search for cues that can help them understand motives of
perpetrators (Weick, 1995). Organizational politics infuse uncer-
tainty and instability into the social environment (Chang et al.,
2009), which increased the resources needed to appraise incivility,
thereby further diminishing self-control.
Moreover, the complex interpersonal dynamics that characterize
political environments make it more difficult to determine which
responses to incivility will be appropriate and increase the risks
associated with responding inappropriately. For example, going
along to get along and acquiescing to a politically connected rival
may be rewarded in more political environments, whereas con-
fronting a member of a powerful coalition or gossiping about a
coworker’s actions with colleagues may be punished and have
long-term consequences (e.g., being ostracized by one’s work
group). Thus, in more political work environments, targets of
incivility experience increased demands on their attentional re-
sources to process information. More specifically, not only must
these individuals exert more caution when formulating and man-
aging reactions to perpetrators, but they must also consider a
broader range of social consequences that might result (e.g., the
perpetrator’s ties to powerful others and/or membership in an
influential coalition might have negative implications for those
who confront them), both of which demand greater self-control
during information processing. For the reasons above, organiza-
tional politics likely increase the amount of attentional resources
that employees must expend to unravel the meaning of uncivil acts
that they experience, thereby strengthening the relationship be-
tween experienced incivility and diminished self-control.
Hypothesis 2: The daily positive relation of experiencing
incivility with diminished self-control will be stronger for
employees who perceive high (vs. low) levels of politics.
Ego Depletion and Instigated Incivility
Assuming that experiencing incivility diminishes attentional
resources (especially when organizational politics are high), tar-
gets will be more likely to succumb to instigating incivility toward
others due to increased difficulties in regulating behavior to be
consistent with interpersonal norms. Indeed, it has been found that
sufficient attentional resources are needed to maintain positive
interpersonal relations, which involves suppressing incivility
(Baumeister, Heatherton, & Tice, 1994). In interpersonal contexts,
diminished self-control often manifests as deviant and impulsive
behaviors such as unethical and aggressive acts (DeWall,
Baumeister, Stillman, & Gailliot, 2007; Lin et al., 2016). Unlike
unethical and aggressive behavior though, incivility has more
innocuous and less salient short-term consequences. As such,
inhibiting incivility may receive lower priority than other self-
regulatory activities (e.g., exerting effort on required job tasks),
particularly when such acts are directed toward individuals who do
not have power over the perpetrator (e.g., coworkers). Moreover,
because individuals are motivated to avoid complete exhaustion of
attentional resources (Baumeister & Vohs, 2007), depleted em-
ployees may be less likely to allocate resources to inhibit uncivil
behaviors as a means of preserving whatever self-control remains.
Thus, when opportunities for incivility arise, we theorize that
reduced self-control will increase employees’ likelihood of insti-
gating incivility.
Hypothesis 3: On a daily basis, experiencing decreased self-
control will be positively related to an increase in instigated
Although incivility is more likely to manifest when attentional
resources are depleted (Christian & Ellis, 2011), ego depletion
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theory stipulates that depletion-based effects can be counteracted if
people are sufficiently motivated to overcome them (Baumeister &
Vohs, 2007; Muraven, Shmueli, & Burkley, 2006). In general,
people are motivated to hold favorable self-views (Leary, 2007)
and have positive interactions and relations with others (Baumeis-
ter & Leary, 1995). Given that exhibiting incivility damages rela-
tionships and is inconsistent with a positive self-concept, exhibit-
ing it may produce uncomfortable states of dissonance that
employees are motivated to avoid. Whether or not they are sensi-
tive to the threats that incivility poses to their self-concept, though,
requires that employees are attuned to the self-referenced meaning
of their behavior. Construal level (Trope & Liberman, 2010) may
therefore play a role because it shapes how people think about their
behavior and the meaning they ascribe to it.
Research on behavior identification (Vallacher & Wegner,
1989) and construal level (Trope & Liberman, 2010) finds that
people differ in whether they mentally construe actions in a con-
crete or abstract manner. Some people construe actions concretely,
causing them to see behaviors as discrete, detail-rich representa-
tions that emphasize subordinate, incidental features. Concrete
construals concern how to do the action and the details of the
action (Vallacher & Wegner, 1989). For example, concrete con-
struals of one’s job might include “completing paperwork” and
“responding to client emails.” Alternatively, other people construe
actions in an abstract manner, seeing their behaviors as decontex-
tualized, detail-poor representations that capture superordinate,
central features. Abstract construals emphasize why the action is
performed, the motives behind the action, and the meaning of the
action (Vallacher & Wegner, 1989). Example abstract construals
of one’s job include “learning new skills” and “building relation-
ships with clients.” Employees who hold abstract construals con-
sider the bigger picture by thinking about the deeper meaning of
behavior and what it says about their character, whereas behavior
has little or no ramifications for the self-concept of those who hold
concrete construals (Conway & Peetz, 2012). Consistent with this
idea, Freitas, Langsam, Clark, and Moeller (2008) found that
people who construe actions in abstract (vs. concrete) terms are
more likely to make decisions that are aligned with the values and
goals that define their desired self-concept.
Of direct relevance to the present study, construal level impacts
the extent to which people are able to control their behavior
(Fujita, Trope, Liberman, & Levin-Sagi, 2006). Take, for example,
dieters with higher level goals like “being healthy” and “losing
weight.” When faced with the option of eating kale versus choc-
olate, those with abstract construals think about the choice in terms
of these high-level goals (e.g., “being healthy”), whereas those
with concrete construals focus on subordinate details (e.g., taste
and aroma). It is not surprising that dieters who focus on subor-
dinate details are more likely to succumb to the temptation to eat
chocolate (Fujita & Han, 2009). We expect a similar pattern with
respect to incivility. When resources are depleted, people find it
more difficult to act in ways that are consistent with interpersonal
norms, instead succumbing to uncivil impulses (DeWall et al.,
2007). People with concrete self-construals show this depletion
effect, but not those with abstract construals (Schmeichel & Vohs,
2009). Having an abstract construal motivates people to overcome
effects of ego depletion because high-level values and goals,
including social ones like “build positive relationships,” are salient
and cause them to act accordingly. In line with ego depletion and
construal level theories (Fujita & Carnevale, 2012), the effect of
depletion on subsequent incivility should be weaker when employ-
ees have a high/abstract (vs. low/concrete) construal level.
Hypothesis 4: The daily positive relation of diminished self-
control with instigated incivility will be weaker for employees
who have a high (vs. low) construal level.
Our hypotheses imply that the strength of the mediated relation-
ship between experienced and instigated incivility is influenced by
workplace politics and construal level. Regarding politics, we posit
that high levels enhance the positive relation of experienced inci-
vility with diminished self-control, such that employees expend
more resources dealing with incivility in highly political contexts.
Regarding construal level, a high construal level motivates em-
ployees to overcome the effects of diminished self-control and
refrain from exhibiting incivility. These predictions suggest a
moderated mediation model, whereby politics and construal level
moderate the indirect effects of experienced incivility on instigated
incivility. Thus, we hypothesize:
Hypothesis 5: The indirect effect of experienced incivility on
instigated incivility via diminished self-control will be stron-
ger for employees who (a) perceive high (vs. low) levels of
politics, and (b) have a low (vs. high) level of construal.
Sample and Procedure
The data presented in this article were part of a broader data
collection effort. Data collection occurred in two phases. During
the first phase, we sent a recruitment e-mail to employees of a
Midwestern university in the United States that contained a de-
scription of the study and a link to an online sign-up survey. The
sign-up survey contained the informed consent, the between-
persons moderators (i.e., perceptions of politics, construal level),
and demographics. Employees were told during this first phase that
they would receive up to $75 for their participation. From this
initial e-mail, 81 employees signed up. Additionally, we allowed
employees to forward the recruitment e-mail to friends who may
also be interested in participating. Twenty-six additional partici-
pants were recruited in this manner.
The 107 employees who completed phase one were invited to
begin phase two, which consisted of three email surveys each day
for 10 consecutive workdays. Participants completed the Time 1
survey on average at 10:32 a.m. This survey contained a measure
of self-control, which served as a control variable to model change.
The Time 2 survey was sent several hours later and was completed
on average at 1:32 PM. This survey contained a measure of
experienced incivility, instigated incivility (used as a control to
model change), and the self-control mediator variable. The Time 3
survey was completed on average at 3:38 PM. This survey con-
tained the instigated incivility outcome variable, as well as a
corresponding assessment of experienced incivility to be used as a
We examined whether the participants recruited via the snowball
method differed from the other participants on the focal variables in our
model via a series of ttests. No significant differences emerged.
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control to rule out alternative explanations associated with incivil-
ity enactment (i.e., retaliating in response to experiencing incivil-
ity). On average, the time elapsed between the first and second
surveys was 3 hr and 36 min, and 2 hr and 11 min between the
second and third surveys. Although lab studies typically examine
consequences of ego depletion seconds or minutes after exertions
of self-control, field studies indicate that the effects of diminished
self-control can occur on hourly and daily cycles (Johnson et al.,
2014; Lanaj et al., 2014). Thus, the 2–3 hour intervals between the
daily surveys are reasonable.
Ten employees did not complete the daily portion of the study.
Of the remaining 97 employees, we retained data only for those
who completed all three surveys for at least three days (which
resulted in the removal of another 10 employees). In addition,
because we used a reaction time (RT) measure of self-control, we
only included participants who used a computer with a traditional
mouse to complete the survey. This resulted in a final sample 70
individuals who provided 482 full day-level data points (all three
surveys on a given day) out of a possible 700 (a 69% response
rate). Employees worked in a variety of organizations (e.g., uni-
versities, local government, and medical offices). The average age
of participants was 44.5 years (SD 10.7), with 84.3% being
female and 87.1% being Caucasian. Employees worked on average
41.1 hr per week (SD 6.1) and interacted with coworkers on
average 27.3 hr per week (SD 13.0).
Daily Within-Person Measures
Self-control. Self-control was assessed using the Stroop test
(Stroop, 1935), a standard measure of ego depletion (Gailliot et al.,
2007; Job, Dweck, & Walton, 2010). Ego depletion is a state of
diminished regulatory resources, which can range from reduced
cognitive attention to reduced physiological energy. We focused
on a cognitive resource (i.e., attention) in the current study because
there is debate regarding the physiological mechanism of depletion
(Beedie & Lane, 2012). For the Stroop test, individuals are pre-
sented with a word that signifies a color (e.g., blue), and the letters
of the word are in a color (e.g., black font). Participants are
instructed to report the color of the word font and not the color that
is spelled out. For example, if the word “blue” was presented and
the letter font was black, the correct answer would be “black.” By
crossing colors with words signifying those colors, we can esti-
mate self-control by measuring an individual’s RT because iden-
tifying the color of the word, and not the word itself, requires
self-control (i.e., people must suppress the meaning of the word;
(Gailliot, Schmeichel, & Baumeister, 2006). Responses to words
are relatively automatic, whereas responses to colors require at-
tention and effort (Engle, 2002; Macleod, 1991). When people
have diminished self-control, it takes longer to suppress the mean-
ing of the word (Gailliot et al., 2006).
We used four colors (black, blue, green, orange) and fully
crossed colors/words, resulting in 16 items randomly presented
during the Time 1 and 2 surveys.
2, 3
Participants were instructed to
quickly select the color presented and not the word itself. The
survey automatically advanced once a selection was made and
recorded time elapsed from when the page loaded to when the
selection was made. Diminished self-control was operationalized
as average RT on the 16 items, such that longer RTs reflect lower
self-control. Because we used a within-person design and centered
at the person’s mean, between-persons differences in RTs are not
a concern. Thus, each person’s average RT served as his or her
own referent.
Experienced incivility. Participants reported their experi-
enced incivility by reflecting on their workday since they com-
pleted the previous survey during the Time 2 and Time 3 surveys.
(e.g., when completing the Time 3 survey, participants were in-
structed to reflect on events that had occurred since completing the
Time 2 survey). Participants indicated their agreement (1
strongly disagree;5strongly agree) with four statements from
Lim and Cortina (2005). An example item is “In the time since I
completed the last survey, one or more of my coworkers has put
me down or been condescending to me.” Coefficient alphas aver-
aged across days was .93 for the Time 2 survey and .94 for the
Time 3 survey.
Instigated incivility. Participants were also instructed to re-
flect on their workday and complete measures of instigated inci-
vility at Time 2 and Time 3. Participants indicated their agreement
(1 strongly disagree;5strongly agree) with the same 4 items
from Lim and Cortina (2005), with wording changes to reflect
instigation as opposed to experience. An example item is “In the
time since I completed the last survey, I have put one or more of
my coworkers down or acted condescendingly toward them.”
Coefficient alpha averaged across days for the Time 2 survey was
.87 and .91 for the Time 3 survey.
Between-Persons Measures
Perceptions of politics. We measured perceptions of politics
in the workplace using 6 items (␣⫽.89) developed by
Hochwarter, Kacmar, Perrewe, and Johnson (2003). Participants
indicated their agreement (1 strongly disagree;5strongly
agree) with statements such as whether their coworkers “do what
is best for them, not what is best for the organization.”
Construal level. We measured construal level using the 25-
item Behavioral Identification Form (␣⫽.89) developed by
Vallacher and Wegner (1989). This measure consists of a series of
questions that ask participants how they would describe a
prompted behavior. For example, participants indicated how they
would describe the behavior “resisting temptation” by choosing
one of two options: “saying no” (low construal level) or “showing
moral courage” (high construal level). Responses were coded “1”
for low construal and “2” for high construal, and an overall score
(which ranged from 1.04 to 2) was created by averaging all 25
We chose bright, vibrant hues for these colors in order to ensure that
they were sufficiently distinguishable from each other (Macleod, 1991). In
case any participants were colorblind (e.g., red/green or blue/yellow) we
used only one color from each pair (i.e., green and blue).
Four of the items presented to participants were congruent (the word
and the font color were the same) and the other 12 were incongruent (the
word and the font color were different). This presentation strategy is in line
with observations by both Macleod (1991) and Engle (2002) that, by
presenting participants with both congruent and incongruent words, par-
ticipants are required to focus their attention on the task instead of relying
on alternative strategies (e.g., ignoring the word altogether) that simplify
cognitive demands.
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Analytic Approach
Because of the nested nature of our data (i.e., events nested
within individuals), we utilized multilevel path analysis in Mplus
7.11 (Muthén & Muthén, 2012). As a first test, we verified that
there was sufficient within-person variability to support multilevel
analyses (see Table 1). We also performed a multilevel confirma-
tory factor analysis on the variables in our model. To demonstrate
the uniqueness of experienced and instigated incivility, at the
within-person level (Level 1) we included these variables for both
Time 2 and Time 3, and at the between-persons level (Level 2) we
included politics perceptions; self-control (Level 1) and construal
level (Level 2) were excluded because they are not Likert scales.
Results indicated acceptable model fit,
(107) 174.11, com-
parative fit index .94, root-mean-square error of approxima-
tion .04, standardized root-mean-square residual .05.
To test moderated mediation, we utilized parametric bootstrap-
ping following recommendations from Preacher, Zyphur, and
Zhang (2010). Scholars recommend including the magnitude of the
covariance between the random slopes when calculating indirect
effects in multilevel models (e.g., Kenny, Korchmaros, & Bolger,
2003). However, Tofighi, West, and MacKinnon (2013) recently
suggested that this parameter be omitted if covariation of these
slopes is not significant. In our model, this covariance was equal to
.00 and nonsignificant; thus, we did not consider it as influencing
the magnitude of the indirect effect. For moderated mediation, the
indirect effect was calculated as being conditional on the strength
of the moderator of each path. We utilized a Monte Carlo method
with 20,000 replications to create bias-corrected confidence inter-
vals (CIs) for these effects (e.g., Selig & Preacher, 2008). To
interpret our results, we grand-mean centered the cross-level mod-
erators and we used random effects with group-mean centering for
the Level 1 variables (Bliese, 2000; Enders & Tofighi, 2007). To
estimate variance accounted for (LaHuis, Hartman, Hakoyama, &
Clark, 2014) in our mediator and dependent variable, we followed
Snijders and Bosker (1994) and compared the change in total and
residual variance between the null and final models for these
variables. We probed our moderation results by testing the simple
slopes using a web utility provided by Preacher, Curran, and Bauer
We employed several controls in our analyses. First, we in-
cluded prior assessments of self-control and instigated incivility as
predictors of each endogenous variable. Doing so enabled us to
eliminate prior levels of these variables as alternative explanations
for our results and to interpret these variables as representing
change in their level, which is common in within-person studies
(e.g., Gabriel, Diefendorff, & Erickson, 2011; Lanaj, Johnson, &
Lee, 2016; Scott & Barnes, 2011). Second, we controlled for a
measure of experienced incivility as a predictor of our dependent
variable instigated incivility measured at the same time. Doing so
clarifies that instigated incivility is a function of diminished self-
control stemming from prior experienced incivility, and not con-
currently experienced incivility. In addition, we controlled for
linear and cyclical variation in our prediction of diminished self-
control and instigated incivility. Beal and colleagues (e.g., Beal &
Ghandour, 2011) have argued that individuals experience linear
and cyclical fluctuations in their daily states that may explain
observed daily variations. Accordingly, we controlled for the ef-
fects of day of the week as a linear growth trend as well as the sine
and cosine for day (with the period equal to one work week;
Trougakos, Hideg, Cheng, & Beal, 2014). These effects were
modeled with random effects to account for unique individual
variation (Beal & Ghandour, 2011). Finally, we controlled for
gender given its ties to both incivility (e.g., Cortina et al., 2001;
Reio & Ghosh, 2009) and politics (Ferris et al., 1996). It is
important to note that our results hold with or without controls
included. We chose to retain them as a more conservative test of
our hypotheses (Spector & Brannick, 2011).
Means, standard deviations, and correlations are in Table 2.
Results from our multilevel path analysis are in Table 3. We first
considered the direct effect of experienced incivility on diminished
self-control (Hypothesis 1) and the interactive effect of experi-
enced incivility and perceptions of politics, such that the relation-
ship between experienced incivility and diminished self-control
would be stronger when politics perceptions were higher (Hypoth-
esis 2). Hypothesis 1 was not supported (␥⫽.01, ns); however,
Hypothesis 2 was (␥⫽.09, p.05).
As shown in Figure 2,
experienced incivility was a positive predictor of diminished self-
control when politics perceptions were higher (simple slope: ␥⫽
.08, SE .04, p.05), and not when politics perceptions were
lower (simple slope: ␥⫽⫺.06, SE .04, ns). Thus, although we
did not observe a direct relation of experienced incivility on
self-control (Hypothesis 1), this effect did occur for employees
who perceived higher levels of politics at work (Hypothesis 2).
Next, we considered whether diminished self-control predicted
subsequent instigated incivility (Hypothesis 3). We found a sig-
nificant effect (␥⫽.06, p.05), suggesting that as self-control
diminished, employees were more likely to instigate incivility
toward others. Moreover, we considered whether construal level
interacted with diminished self-control, such that the relation of
diminished self-control with instigated incivility would be stronger
Because we tested our hypotheses using a path analysis, all results
come from a model that includes all variables (i.e., controls, moderators,
and primary study variables). However, a reviewer suggested that we
confirm our main effect findings by running a reduced model that excludes
the effects of the moderators. We conducted this analysis, and our conclu-
sions for Hypotheses 1 and 2 remained consistent with the results presented
in this paper.
Table 1
Percentage of Within-Individual and Between-Individuals
Variance Among Daily Variables
variance (e
variance (r
Diminished self-control (T1) .09 .05 64%
Diminished self-control (T2) .30 .08 79%
Experienced incivility (T2) .21 .30 41%
Experienced incivility (T3) .16 .37 30%
Instigated incivility (T2) .18 .25 42%
Instigated incivility (T3) .18 .23 44%
Note. The percentage of variance within-individuals was calculated as
). Diminished self-control (T1; Time 1) and instigated incivility
(T2; Time 2) were used as control variables to model change in our focal
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when construal level was lower versus higher (Hypothesis 4). This
cross-level interaction was significant (␥⫽⫺.19, p.05). As
shown in Figure 3, when one’s construal level was lower, the
relation of diminished self-control with instigated incivility was
stronger (simple slope: ␥⫽.10, SE .02, p.05) compared with
when construal level was higher (simple slope: ␥⫽.01, SE .01,
Given our significant cross-level interactions, we tested incre-
mental explanatory power by examining the change in log-
likelihood fit indices with and without inclusion of the cross-level
moderators using a Satorra and Bentler (2001) scaled difference
test. Specifically, the log-likelihood values are adjusted based on a
scaling factor provided by the multilevel path analysis, and the
difference in these values was tested on a chi-square distribution.
Results indicate that model fit improved with the inclusion of our
two cross-level moderators, LL
11, p.05.
Finally, to Test Hypothesis 5, we calculated the conditional
indirect effects for the mediated relationship of experienced inci-
vility with instigated incivility at high and low values of each
moderator (/1SD), with politics perceptions occurring in the
first stage of mediation, and construal occurring in the second
stage (Edwards & Lambert, 2007). Supporting Hypothesis 5, the
Table 2
Means, Standard Deviations, and Correlations
Level and variable MSD 12345678
Level 1
1. Diminished self-control (T1) 1.54 .28
2. Diminished self-control (T2) 1.58 .51 .04
3. Experienced incivility (T2) 1.56 .43 .05 .07 (.93)
4. Experienced incivility (T3) 1.56 .37 .01 .02 .24
5. Instigated incivility (T2) 1.53 .39 .05 .10
.07 (.87)
6. Instigated incivility (T3) 1.48 .39 .04 .04 .20
Level 2
7. Perceptions of politics 3.10 .83 .06 .05 .41
8. Construal level 1.70 .23 .09 .11 .10 .02 .20 .12 .22 (.89)
Note. Level 1 n482; Level 2 n70. Correlations for the Level 1 variables are group-mean centered relationships among the daily variables.
For Level 2 correlations, all Level 1 variables were aggregated to provide estimates of between-individual relationships. T1 Time 1; T2 Time 2;
T3 Time 3.
Table 3
Results From Multilevel Path Analysis
Diminished self-control
(Time 2)
Instigated incivility
(Time 3)
Predictors SE t SE t
Between levels
Intercept 1.79 .31 5.73
1.44 .31 4.62
Perceptions of politics .03 .04 0.73
Construal level .04 .26 0.16
Interaction .09 .03 2.59
.19 .05 4.11
Gender .05 .15 0.33 .04 .16 0.27
Residual variance .08 .02 3.37
.24 .04 5.83
Within level
Diminished self-control (T1) .03 .09 0.36 .18 .18 1.00
Day .04 .02 1.69 .01 .02 0.43
Sine .00 .03 .04 .01 .04 0.27
Cosine .02 .04 0.45 .01 .03 0.34
Instigated incivility (T2) .12 .07 1.76 .05 .07 0.74
Experienced incivility (T2) .01 .03 0.42 .04 .07 0.61
Diminished self-control (T2) .06 .02 3.75
Experienced incivility (T3) .23 .10 2.19
Residual variance .28 .18 1.61 .09 .02 3.74
Note. Level 1 n482; Level 2 n70. Variables in italics represent our focal study variables; non-italicized
variables are controls. Estimates reflect unstandardized coefficients. The term interaction reflects the parameter
for each cross-level moderation hypothesis (i.e., Experienced Incivility Perceptions of Politics predicting
diminished self-control and Diminished Self-Control Construal Level predicting instigated incivility). The
model predicting diminished self-control explained 7% of the within-person variance in that variable. The model
predicting instigated incivility explained 47% of the within-person variance in that variable (calculated as the
percent change in the total and residual within-individual variance; LaHuis et al., 2014). T1 Time 1; T2
Time 2; T3 Time 3.
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indirect effect between experienced incivility and instigated inci-
vility was .005 at high levels of politics perceptions and the 95%
CI excluded zero [.001, .011], whereas the indirect effect
was .003 at low levels, and the 95% CI included zero [.009,
.001]; the difference between these two indirect effects was sig-
nificant (95% CI [.001, .015]). Similarly, at high levels of politics
perceptions, the indirect effect between experienced incivility and
instigated incivility was .008 for low levels of construal and the
95% CI excluded zero [.002, .020], whereas the indirect effect was
.001 at high levels and the 95% CI included zero [.000, .003]; these
indirect effects were also significantly different from one another
(95% CI [.019, .001].
Supplemental Analyses
According to ego depletion theory (Baumeister et al., 1998), the
effects of diminished self-control should be distinguished from the
effects of negative mood. Thus, we conducted an additional anal-
ysis controlling for two common measures of negative mood (i.e.,
a 9-item measure of negative affect [example items include “slug-
gish” and “bored;” ␣⫽.89] and a 3-item measure of emotional
exhaustion [e.g., “I feel emotionally drained;” ␣⫽.94]). Negative
affect and emotional exhaustion were measured concurrently with
self-control at Time 2 and were included as predictors of self-
control, as well as instigated incivility. Their inclusion did not
affect model results, indicating support for the mediating effect of
self-control even after controlling for these potential alternative
mechanisms, thus allowing us to differentiate the effects of self-
control from those of negative mood and emotional exhaustion in
our model.
Another mechanism that may account for the spread of incivility
is social learning (Bandura, 1973). To the extent that incivility is
rewarded, or is at least not punished, such behavior will be vicar-
iously reinforced in those who observe it. Although we did not
formally assess social learning, we ran a supplementary analysis
involving a relevant variable: collective identity. Employees with
a strong collective identity internalize the behaviors of other group
members and regulate behavior around group values and norms
(Johnson & Saboe, 2011); therefore, they should be particularly
susceptible to social learning. To partially rule out a social learning
explanation, we reran our analyses controlling for the effects of
collective identity. None of our results changed, and collective
identity was not significant.
Another consideration is the potential for a learning effect to
occur which, if it were to occur with our measure of self-control,
it would likely be a between-individuals difference alleviated by
our use of group-mean centering with the daily variables. How-
ever, if learning were to occur, then results on the daily Stoop test
should be negatively associated with the day of the study (i.e., as
the day of the study increases [with 1 Day 1 of participation and
10 Day 10 of participation], then response time on the Stroop
test should decrease). When modeling this factor, day of the study
was not a significant predictor of the Stoop test, and this variable
was not related to instigated incivility and its inclusion did not
affect model results.
Moreover, although our theory specifies that experienced inci-
vility is likely to influence subsequent instigated incivility through
diminished self-control, our data structure enabled us to test a
model wherein we reversed the causality of our measures (i.e.,
instigated incivility as the independent variable influencing sub-
sequent experienced incivility through diminished self-control).
Another way of considering our moderated mediation relationship
would be to compute a single indirect effect that is conditional on high
perceptions of politics and low construal level. This indirect effect was
.008, and the CI for this indirect effect excludes zero (95% CI [.002, .020]).
Moreover, this indirect effect was significantly different from effects at the
other combinations of politics perceptions and construal level (Preacher et
al., 2010). Taken together, these results further support Hypothesis 5.
Figure 2. Cross-level moderating effect of perceptions of politics on the
experienced incivility and diminished self-control relationships.
Figure 3. Cross-level moderating effect of construal level on the dimin-
ished self-control and instigated incivility relationship
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The results of this analysis were not as compelling as our hypoth-
esized model. More specifically, instigated incivility did not have
a main effect relationship with diminished self-control, although
perceptions of politics did moderate this relationship (␥⫽.20, p
.05). However, diminished self-control was not associated with
experienced incivility (␥⫽.00, ns), and construal level did not
moderate this relationship (␥⫽.07, ns). Given these results, our
data appears to provide stronger support for our theoretically
derived model. Relatedly, although our theory specifies percep-
tions of politics as a first-stage moderator and construal level as a
second-stage moderator, we conducted an analysis wherein both
perceptions of politics and construal level were modeled as mod-
erators of both paths. Neither of these new paths were significant.
Finally, we probed into the distribution of our incivility vari-
ables. Incivility is a relatively low-base rate phenomenon and this
is likely magnified given the short duration between our assess-
ments (2–3 hr). The result of this is a relatively low mean for
incivility and a positive skew. On the one hand, if our incivility
measures exhibit such skew, the descriptive statistics for these
variables are in line with those reported in other studies of inci-
vility and similarly “negative” constructs (e.g., Chen et al., 2013;
Tepper, Mitchell, Haggard, Kwan, & Park, 2015). Furthermore,
regression-based analyses conducted using maximum-likelihood
estimation tend to be relatively robust to deviations from normal-
ity. On the other hand, if our results hold even after correcting for
this skew, then this can provide increased confidence not only in
our findings, but also other studies with similarly skewed vari-
ables. To correct for this skew, we reran our model using the
natural logarithm of our incivility variables (Cohen, Cohen, West,
& Aiken, 2003). Using these alternative versions of our incivility
variables did not affect model results.
Drawing from ego depletion theory, we proposed and tested a
model in which experiencing incivility reduced employees’ self-
control, putting them at risk for instigating incivility toward others
due to their diminished capacity to act in accordance with inter-
personal norms. Being the victim of incivility leaves employees
depleted because they must expend energy to understand why they
were targeted and how to respond. Such sensemaking is made
more complex in highly political environments, in which inten-
tions and motives of others are less clear; as such, organizational
politics strengthened the relation of experienced incivility with
diminished self-control. However, employees can still counteract
diminished self-control if they are sufficiently motivated. To wit,
we found that employees who think about the self-referenced
meaning of behavior were less likely to exhibit incivility, despite
fewer attentional resources.
Theoretical Implications
Our study broadens incivility theory and research by further
advancing a within-person perspective. To date, the majority of
work has explored between-persons differences in the experience
and proliferation of uncivil behavior, treating incivility as chronic.
For example, stable factors like demographics (e.g., gender), per-
sonality (e.g., negative affectivity), and work characteristics (e.g.,
procedural justice climate) have all been linked to incivility (Blau
& Andersson, 2005; Cortina et al., 2001; Penney & Spector, 2005;
Whitman, Caleo, Carpenter, Horner, & Bernerth, 2012). We add to
this literature by showing that incivility also varies within people
over time. We observed that over 40% of variance in experienced
and instigated incivility resides at the within-person level, neces-
sitating the need for more attention to incivility as an episodic
phenomenon. Although a handful of studies have explored within-
person changes in incivility across days (Nicholson & Griffin,
2015; Zhou et al., 2015) and weeks (Taylor et al., in press), our
results suggest that there is meaningful variance in incivility on
even shorter (e.g., hourly) timescales, a finding that is consistent
with Meier and Gross’ (2015) supplementary analyses. We en-
courage organizational scholars to pay more attention to the ebbs
and flows of incivility that occur within-person and across time,
which paints a more accurate picture of employees’ phenomeno-
logical experience of work (Weiss & Rupp, 2011).
A fortuitous byproduct of viewing incivility from a within-
person vantage point is that it introduces a fresh theoretical per-
spective to the literature. Organizational scholars must consider
dynamic models that can account for antecedent- and consequent-
based processes that unfold from one episode to the next, which
differ from the static content models at the between-persons level,
and even within-person studies that examine all effects at the same
measurement period. The current study serves as an example of
this, as we examined the dynamic relation of experienced and
instigated incivility using a novel framework (ego depletion the-
ory). Doing so proved useful because a key variable from ego
depletion theory (self-control) was a linchpin mechanism that
transformed experienced incivility into subsequent instigated inci-
Ego depletion theory also informed our choice of cross-level
moderators by leading us to consider a characteristic of the social
context (organizational politics) that increases information pro-
cessing demands and exacerbates ego depletion, and a personal
factor (construal level) that enhances motivation and weakens the
effects of ego depletion. Future research that considers incivility
within the contexts of other episodic and dynamic within-person
models, such as affective events theory (Weiss & Cropanzano,
1996) or control theory (Carver & Scheier, 1998), may produce
additional insights. Moreover, given the relational nature of orga-
nizational politics, it may behoove future researchers to consider
team level constructs, such as psychological safety and team trust,
as both might further explain when, why, and how the social
context influences relationship between incivility and depletion. In
addition, factors such as work demands, situational constraints,
exposure to chronic work stress, and sleep quantity and/or quality
may influence the resources available for self-regulation and
should, therefore, be considered in future research as boundary
conditions to the effects observed in the current study.
Although we focused on attentional resources, there may be
other mechanisms that explain why incivility begets incivility. In
some cases, incivility involves an escalation contained within the
dyad of the initial two parties (e.g., Joelle makes a snide remark in
response to Charles’ curt behavior, thus provoking rude behavior
from Charles). In these cases, social exchange and quid pro quo
mechanisms are likely at play, in addition to diminished self-
control. For example, the escalation of these spirals may be mod-
erated by exchange-based variables like equity sensitivity (Miles,
Hatfield, & Huseman, 1989) and exchange ideology (Eisenberger,
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Huntington, Hutchison, & Sowa, 1986). In our study, however,
experienced and instigated incivility were not necessarily confined
to the two original parties (e.g., Charles is rude to Joelle, who in
turn is rude to Daisy); thus, social exchange may play a less
prominent role.
Another alternative mechanism was recently identified by Foulk
et al. (2016), who proposed that automatic cognitive processing
(i.e., semantic activation) might explain contagion effects of inci-
vility. Supporting this perspective, they demonstrated that rude-
ness information becomes more cognitively accessible to individ-
uals after they observe an actor being rude to an unrelated third
party. Unfortunately, Foulk et al. did not establish the indirect
relation of observed rudeness with instigated rudeness via infor-
mation accessibility. Nonetheless, given its potential to explain
contagion effects, future research should consider cognitive acti-
vation alongside self-control to determine the extent to which these
underlying cognitive mechanisms jointly explain the relationship
between experienced and instigated incivility.
Finally, our use of a performance-based measure of self-control
was a key empirical contribution. Previous organizational research
involving ego depletion has primarily relied on subjective reports
of the extent to which participants feel mentally fatigued or low in
willpower (Lanaj et al., 2014; Lin et al., 2016; Trougakos et al.,
2014). However, people’s knowledge about their capabilities is
often fallible (Kruger & Dunning, 1999) and factors unrelated to
depletion (e.g., mood and social desirability) can bias self-
evaluations (Johnson, Rosen, & Djurdjevic, 2011). An effective
workaround to these issues is relying on behavioral measures of
self-control, such as assessing behavioral persistence (Christian &
Ellis, 2011, Sample 2) or attention via a RT measure like the
Stroop test. In fact, our supplemental analyses revealed that more
variance was captured by the RT measure vis-a
`-vis a subjective
measure (viz., emotional exhaustion). This finding suggests that
the causes and consequences of depletion may be underestimated
when subjective measures are used. We therefore encourage the
use of performance-based measures of ego depletion.
Practical Implications
Although incivility is pervasive at work (Porath & Pearson,
2013), our findings indicate that it does not always translate into
depletion nor subsequent acts of incivility. Practically speaking,
our results indicate that incivility is depleting when it is experi-
enced in work contexts that are perceived as political. Thus, one
way of mitigating incivility is by reducing employee perceptions
of politics, which can be done by providing clear feedback to
employees regarding the types of behaviors that are desired
(Rosen, Levy, & Hall, 2006). This can be accomplished infor-
mally, by enhancing the quality of feedback provided during
day-to-day interactions, or more formally via the performance
management process. In organizations where politics are wide-
spread, it benefits leaders to engage their human resource depart-
ments to create competency models (Shippmann et al., 2000) that
include goals of discouraging political behaviors and incentivizing
managers to create environments that are less political (Chang et
al., 2009). Doing so would reduce demands on employees’ self-
control by decreasing the amount of ambiguity and uncertainty that
extort a larger tax on sensemaking.
A second practical implication concerns the link from dimin-
ished self-control to instigated incivility. Although depletion is a
primary contributor to damaging interpersonal behavior (Christian
& Ellis, 2011; Lin et al., 2016), it need not always culminate in
such behavior. Employees who construe behavior at high (vs. low)
levels are less likely to exhibit incivility when self-control wanes.
Although we assessed chronic construal levels, ample evidence
suggests that this attribute is malleable (e.g., Fujita et al., 2006). It
may therefore be possible to train employees to adopt a high level
construal, thus limiting the spread of incivility. Leaders may also
help inoculate employees from the detrimental effects of depletion
by activating a high construal level in followers. This can be done
by emphasizing superordinate values, framing activities in abstract
(vs. concrete) terms, highlighting the desirability (vs. feasibility) of
activities, and setting long (vs. short) term goals (Trope & Liber-
man, 2010). A fruitful direction for future research is to explore the
viability of construal-based training and interventions, which may
prove to be cost-effective methods for counteracting incivility.
Limitations and Future Directions
This study is not without limitations. All constructs were as-
sessed via self-reports, which raises concerns that results may have
been biased by common method variance (CMV). This concern is
somewhat alleviated by the temporal spacing of the focal con-
(Johnson et al., 2011; Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Lee, & Podsakoff,
2003). We also controlled for previous levels of self-control and
instigated incivility, enabling us to assess changes in these con-
structs, which mitigates concerns of reverse causality and spurious
relations owing to CMV (Scott & Barnes, 2011). The use of
person-centered scores at Level 1 further reduced the potential for
individual response tendencies to influence the results (Bryk &
Raudenbush, 2002).
In regards to our assessment of incivility, we used an agreement
(vs. frequency) scale. This was done in part because our measures
were collected as part of a larger data collection, and all measures
were on an agreement-based scale to minimize participant burden
(see: Beal, 2015). To further minimize burden, we also used a
shortened measure from Lim and Cortina (2005). Although we do
not believe these choices affected our results, scholars may wish to
replicate our findings with the full set of items using a frequency
scale. Moreover, the mean for incivility was low, consistent with
what other studies report (e.g., Chen et al., 2013). After adjusting
for skew though, results remained unchanged. A key takeaway is
that low base rate phenomena experienced over short periods of
time can still have important consequences at work.
Another limitation is our focus on coworker incivility. Our
findings may not generalize to other sources of incivility and
additional theory may be necessary to account for how individuals
react to supervisor incivility. For example, individuals may view
incivility from a supervisor as more threatening and thus depleting
given that supervisors have power over them. Likewise, targets of
incivility may be more motivated to override impulses to be
uncivil toward supervisors, given that supervisors have influence
over personnel decisions that affect them. Relatedly, though our
findings indicate that depletion explains the relationship between
coworker instigated and enacted incivility, we were not able to
ascertain whether this mechanism also accounts for reciprocal
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This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
relationships in previous research examining supervisor incivility
(e.g., Meier & Gross, 2015) and we could not assess the extent to
which individuals are strategic in directing incivility toward su-
pervisors versus less powerful targets when self-control is low.
Thus, we urge future researchers to more directly consider how (a)
incivility experienced from different resources affects depletion,
and (b) depletion might predict specific targets of incivility, in
terms of whether and when employees reciprocate incivility or
displace their reactions by being uncivil to unrelated third parties
(Miller, Pedersen, Earleywine, & Pollock, 2003).
Finally, we did not assess whether acts of incivility were di-
rected toward the original perpetrator. Thus, we could not differ-
entiate between primary incivility spirals, where the focus is on the
dyad, and secondary ones, where the target of incivility engages in
a subsequent act of incivility directed toward a third party (An-
dersson & Pearson, 1999). Moreover, in addition to heightened
frequency of incivility, spirals imply an escalation in intensity,
which we also did not assess. Thus, although our findings indicate
that incivility begets incivility, future research should consider the
extent to which such effects occur within or extend beyond a
particular dyad or fixed social network, as well as the extent to
which the severity of behaviors increases.
The prevalence and costs of incivility are on the rise in organi-
zations. This study provided insight into this phenomenon, indi-
cating that a dynamic ego depletion process explains how experi-
encing incivility can spread to instigating incivility. Our findings
suggest that when employees are exposed to incivility in work
environments that are perceived as more political, they experience
diminished self-control. In turn, for employees who construe the
world at a concrete level of abstraction, diminished self-control
predicts subsequent enactment of incivility toward coworkers.
Together, these findings provide evidence that incivility begets
incivility and, it is important to note that they verify that these
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Received September 9, 2015
Revision received April 6, 2016
Accepted May 30, 2016
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... Based on that observation, Andersson and Pearson (1999) formally defined this "vicious circle" phenomenon as the "spiraling effect" of incivility. Many scholars have found that the effect of the tit-for-tat exchange is not limited to the victim and the perpetrator, but that the victim can retaliate against a third party in the same fashion (Rosen et al., 2016). In the literature on incivility, the term "third party" generally refers to people other than the perpetrator or victim who witness an event involving incivility. ...
... When employees are mistreated by customers, the employees engage in blame attribution, which leads to negative cognition and emotion, and they then treat other customers uncivilly, resulting in a vicious cycle (Garcia et al., 2019). Furthermore, experiencing incivility earlier in the day lowers a person's level of self-control, leading to an increase in incivility toward third parties later in the day (Rosen et al., 2016). There is a lagged relationship between experienced incivility and rudeness toward others (Vahle-Hinz et al., 2019). ...
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Studies on workplace incivility have typically posited that the targets of incivility respond in a “tit-for-tat” manner. Moving beyond this dominant logic, we argue that in some cases, the targets may have a different response to incivility that potentially reduces its spiraling negative consequences. Drawing on attribution theory, we explored the following two aspects of the targets’ responses: psychological motivation and subsequent behavioral response. Based on 555 samples of experience sampling data collected from 61 nurses over 10 workdays at a hospital in China, we found that the nurses’ attribution of incivility to either the uncivil patient or themselves moderated the relationship between the patients’ incivility and the employees’ psychological motivation. When the nurses attributed the reason for a patient’s incivility to the patient, their experience of incivility triggered their revenge motivation. In contrast, when the nurses attributed to themselves the reason for a patient’s incivility, their experience of incivility triggered their forgiveness motivation. Furthermore, we found that the nurses’ revenge motivation positively affected their subsequent incivility toward third parties, whereas their forgiveness motivation positively promoted their subsequent helping behavior toward third parties. This study enriches the application of attribution theory to the spillover effects of incivility toward third parties.
... Given that cognitive processes are central within ego depletion theory (Baumeister et al., 1998), we suggest that the mediating effect of professional isolation through depletion on job engagement is stronger for cognitive than global job engagement. This is because depletion is a short-term state of mental fatigue resulting from self-regulatory activity requiring cognitive resources, which are needed to maintain executive functioning or cognitive processes (Rosen et al., 2016). Depletion is different from physical and emotional fatigue (Lin & Johnson, 2015), which suggests that individuals who are depleted from experiencing professional isolation will be especially likely to not have the cognitive energy for the attention, concentration, and absorption required for global, and especially cognitive, engagement at work. ...
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A trend toward telecommuting, started because of the COVID-19 pandemic, provides an opportunity to understand the role of professional isolation and organizational factors in telecommuters’ job engagement. We examine the relationship between professional isolation and job engagement, represented as a bifactor model, via depletion. Using ego depletion theory, we hypothesize this mediated relationship is stronger for cognitive than global job engagement. We then consider whether the second-stage of this effect is moderated by both family supportive supervisor behaviors and schedule flexibility. We investigate these relationships using two-stage latent moderated mediation and bifactor modeling with field data at two points in time on 445 telecommuters in a US corporation that shifted all employees to telecommuting. We found employees who experience higher levels of professional isolation feel more depletion and less global and cognitive job engagement with the results not differing between the two. Further, employees who have a misalignment of resources (low family supportive supervisor behaviors paired with high schedule flexibility; high family supportive supervisor behaviors paired with low schedule flexibility) feel the depleting effects of professional isolation on cognitive engagement (and not global job engagement) more strongly than when both resources are high and when both resources are low. Our research extends the literature on telecommuting and professional isolation and provides insights for organizations on job engagement among telecommuters who feel professionally isolated.
... These behaviors can breach professionalism and etiquette, thereby contributing to an atmosphere of incivility (Pearson et al., 2001). In the workplace, incivility begets incivility and incivility experienced earlier in the day can lead to subsequent incivility later in the day (Rosen et al., 2016). Conversely, in the classroom, incivility that is not addressed could contribute to further episodes of incivility. ...
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Academic incivility is a serious concern for higher education. The continuum of incivility to bullying is not agreed upon, but the behaviors associated with these constructs disrupt education at every level. Unaddressed, these behaviors can significantly complicate teaching and learning conditions for students, faculty, and institutions. Acts of academic incivility in higher education influence (a) student achievement, (b) psychological well-being, (c) instructor performance, and (d) institutional growth. Incivility can be overt or covert, but the damage can be pervasive and long-lasting. To support faculty and institutions of higher education in their efforts to mitigate of incivility, an instrument to measure incivility is warranted. To meet this need, the Academic Incivility Scale was developed, and an exploratory factor analysis was conducted to determine the scale’s factor structure and psychometric properties. The scale, intended for students, measures the frequency of academic incivility. Theoretically and statistically, the final two-factor solution yielded the subscales of Interpersonal Communication and Personal Conduct, included 33 items, and accounted for 60% of the variance. The scale demonstrated evidence of internal consistency, convergent validity, and divergent validity.
Most of the work pertaining to incivility has approached the topic as if incivility were a chronic, ambient environmental factor in organizations—wearing people down and making them more vulnerable to future incidents. From this perspective, it is the frequency of encounters with incivility over a significant period of time that matters, and a single, isolated exposure to incivility does not merit much concern. To the contrary, isolated encounters with incivility can result in serious, negative consequences for individuals and organizations. In this review, we highlight research that focuses on incivility as discrete or episodic events and discuss findings as they relate to affect, cognition, and behavior. Throughout the review, we offer insight into the possible pathways by which incivility affects individuals and review various interventions aimed at diminishing the effects of incivility in the workplace. Lastly, we discuss research opportunities where additional investigations are needed to advance the field of incivility.
Purpose The purpose of this study was to test a mediated-moderated model with revenge cognitions as a coping mechanism through which experienced incivility leads to perpetrated incivility. The authors further explore the role of organizational climate for incivility. Design/methodology/approach Two studies were tested utilizing ordinary least squares (OLS) regression and Hayes (2017) process for mediation and moderation. Study 1 was completed by 321 employees, and study 2 was completed by 197 employees each from across many occupations. Findings Study 1 results indicate support for a positive relationship between experienced incivility and perpetrated incivility. Study 2 results indicate support for a mediated-moderated relationship where experienced incivility was indirectly associated with incivility perpetration through revenge, and the perception of an incivility climate moderated this relationship. Originality/value This is the first study to examine revenge as an explanatory mechanism for responding to incivility. It addresses concerns about revenge cognitions to experiencing incivility and the role climate perceptions play in shaping whether an individual will reciprocate with an uncivil act. The authors’ results accentuate the need for organizations to decrease or eradicate incivility so that their employees can evade the associated adverse outcomes.
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Leaders enact justice in a workplace that is often replete with various political dynamics such as goal conflicts, cliques, and differential treatments. Understanding how and when workplace politics influence leaders’ justice rule adherence is theoretically and practically important. In this paper, we conceptualize the workplace as a political arena and adopt moral self-regulation theory to explore how and when leaders’ perceptions of team politics (PTP) impact their justice rule adherence. We hypothesize that leaders’ PTP prompts them to justify subordinates-directed unjust behaviors, which in turn reduces their justice rule adherence. Furthermore, we hypothesize that leaders’ high construal level mitigates the negative effect of PTP on justice rule adherence. We conduct three studies to examine our theoretical model at both the within- and between-person levels. Results from two interval-based experience sampling studies (within-person) and one time-lagged scenario-based experiment (between-person) demonstrate consistent support for our hypotheses. We conclude by discussing the theoretical and managerial implications of our research.
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People tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. The authors suggest that this overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in these domains suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it. Across 4 studies, the authors found that participants scoring in the bottom quartile on tests of humor, grammar, and logic grossly overestimated their test performance and ability. Although their test scores put them in the 12th percentile, they estimated themselves to be in the 62nd. Several analyses linked this miscalibration to deficits in metacognitive skill, or the capacity to distinguish accuracy from error. Paradoxically, improving the skills of participants, and thus increasing their metacognitive competence, helped them recognize the limitations of their abilities.
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The literature to date has predominantly focused on the benefits of ethical leader behaviors for recipients (e.g., employees and teams). Adopting an actor-centric perspective, in this study we examined whether exhibiting ethical leader behaviors may come at some cost to leaders. Drawing from ego depletion and moral licensing theories, we explored the potential challenges of ethical leader behavior for actors. Across 2 studies which employed multiwave designs that tracked behaviors over consecutive days, we found that leaders’ displays of ethical behavior were positively associated with increases in abusive behavior the following day. This association was mediated by increases in depletion and moral credits owing to their earlier displays of ethical behavior. These results suggest that attention is needed to balance the benefits of ethical leader behaviors for recipients against the challenges that such behaviors pose for actors, which include feelings of mental fatigue and psychological license and ultimately abusive interpersonal behaviors.
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Studies that combine moderation and mediation are prevalent in basic and applied psychology research. Typically, these studies are framed in terms of moderated mediation or mediated moderation, both of which involve similar analytical approaches. Unfortunately, these approaches have important shortcomings that conceal the nature of the moderated and the mediated effects under investigation. This article presents a general analytical framework for combining moderation and mediation that integrates moderated regression analysis and path analysis. This framework clarifies how moderator variables influence the paths that constitute the direct, indirect, and total effects of mediated models. The authors empirically illustrate this framework and give step-by-step instructions for estimation and interpretation. They summarize the advantages of their framework over current approaches, explain how it subsumes moderated mediation and mediated moderation, and describe how it can accommodate additional moderator and mediator variables, curvilinear relationships, and structural equation models with latent variables.
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We present a self-enhancement model of workplace incivility to account for the effects of exposure to incivility on task performance. In particular, we predict that workplace incivility thwarts the ability to self-enhance at work, resulting in employees' divesting their sense of self from work via disengagement processes. Maintaining high levels of task performance subsequently ceases to be a source of self-enhancement for employees who have disengaged their sense of self from work. We also examined the extent to which the desire for self-enhancement (i.e., narcissism) moderated the effect of incivility on engagement. Using two sets of multiwave, multisource data collected in China, our results provide full support for our hypotheses and provide new theoretical directions for incivility research.
This book presents a thorough overview of a model of human functioning based on the idea that behavior is goal-directed and regulated by feedback control processes. It describes feedback processes and their application to behavior, considers goals and the idea that goals are organized hierarchically, examines affect as deriving from a different kind of feedback process, and analyzes how success expectancies influence whether people keep trying to attain goals or disengage. Later sections consider a series of emerging themes, including dynamic systems as a model for shifting among goals, catastrophe theory as a model for persistence, and the question of whether behavior is controlled or instead 'emerges'. Three chapters consider the implications of these various ideas for understanding maladaptive behavior, and the closing chapter asks whether goals are a necessity of life. Throughout, theory is presented in the context of diverse issues that link the theory to other literatures.
Given increasing awareness of time’s critical role, we assess the current position of time in the workplace mistreatment literature. Focusing on four mistreatment constructs (viz., abusive supervision, workplace bullying, workplace incivility, and social undermining) found in the organizational psychology literature, our search revealed 266 studies that have empirically examined the consequences of these forms of interpersonal mistreatment. We examine and critique these studies, finding that with a few exceptions, most have failed to design and test theoretical relationships in a manner consistent with construct definitions. As interpersonal mistreatment research has neglected the role of time, we conclude that the substantial number of existing studies offer limited insight into the true nature of mistreatment’s consequences over time. We go on to elaborate on the types of theoretical insights that might emerge when a temporal lens (objective time and/or subjective time) is adopted by mistreatment researchers.
This cross-level field study, involving 187 employees from 35 groups in 20 organizations, examined how individuals' antisocial behaviors at work are shaped by the antisocial behavior of their coworkers. We found a positive relationship between the level of antisocial behavior exhibited by an individual and that exhibited by his or her coworkers. We also found that a number of factors moderated this relationship. Finally, we found that dissatisfaction with coworkers was higher when individuals engaged in less antisocial behavior than their coworkers.