Research Insights

Take a deep breath, and let go of your office grievance

By Dr. Amy Y.Y. Chen

Take a deep breath, and let go of your office grievance

Inappropriate emails.
Rude behavior.
An abrasive comment.
A coworker who does not thank you for a favor.

Workplace incivility is as common as it is damaging to any organization. In “Self-love's Lost Labor: A Self-enhancement Model of Workplace Incivility”, Dr. Amy Chen and her research team develop a self-enhancement model of workplace incivility to account for the effects exposure of incivility has on task performance.

Self-enhancement, when we seek, consciously or not, to accentuate the positive while ignoring the negative (think internet dating), is a type of motivation particularly useful at work. By successfully performing our work, we enhance our self-esteem, especially when facing difficult challenges. The paper demonstrates that workplace incivility effectively impedes the ability of employees to derive satisfaction from performing their work at high level, as affected employees progressively disengage from work.

To mitigate the impact of incivility on performance, the research team suggests that management provide additional opportunities to self-enhance at work, for example by conducting self-affirmation exercises, such as having individuals write to management about values they personally endorse. By increasing individuals’ sense of self-worth, self-affirmation exercises satiate the desire for self enhancement, helping individuals to better handle threats to their self-worth.

The research team also advises employers to consider mindfulness training. By teaching individuals to observe situations openly and rationally without excessively focusing on emotional and self-relevant consequences, mindfulness may help individuals experience incivility without overreacting to what may well be just minor slights. So next time a colleague does something unpleasant, take a deep breath and let it go!


Chen, Y., Ferris, D., Kwan, H., Yan, M., Zhou, M., Hong, Y. (2013). Self-love's Lost Labor: A Self-enhancement Model of Workplace Incivility. Academy of Management Journal, 56(4), 1199-1219.