Occupational Health Science

, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp 1–21 | Cite as

Workplace Incivility Ruins my Sleep and Yours: the Costs of Being in a Work-Linked Relationship

  • Charlotte FritzEmail author
  • YoungAh Park
  • Brittnie R. Shepherd
Original Research Article


Workplace incivility (i.e., rudeness and disrespect) is a pervasive problem that impacts a number of important employee workplace outcomes. This study expands past research on outcomes of experienced incivility by proposing a spillover-crossover model in which experienced incivility is associated with negative work rumination outside of work as well as insomnia symptoms (i.e., spillover). We further propose that rumination in one employee is also linked to insomnia symptoms in the employee’s partner (i.e., crossover). The moderating effect of being work-linked (working in the same organization or occupation as one’s partner) was also investigated. We tested the hypothesized Actor-Partner Interdependence Mediation Model in the context of dual-earner couples (N = 305). To test moderation effects, we conducted a multi-group analysis by comparing our hypothesized model across work-linked and non-linked couples. Our results support the spillover effect, suggesting that experienced incivility is linked to employee insomnia symptoms through rumination. However, the crossover effect was only found among work-linked couples. By connecting the sleep and workplace incivility literatures, our findings support a dyadic model in which workplace incivility, as an interpersonal stressor, is linked to employee as well as partner insomnia through negative work rumination. Interventions aimed at alleviating negative work rumination may help reduce work-home spillover as well as crossover, particularly for work-linked, dual-earner couples.


Spillover Crossover Incivility Rumination Sleep Work-linked Couples 

The experience of workplace incivility (i.e., rudeness and disrespect) has been linked to employee strain, affecting employees’ willingness and ability to remain a productive member of their organization. Employee surveys indicate that 98% of sampled workers had experienced incivility at work (Porath and Pearson 2013) and 71% of employees experienced workplace incivility in the last 5 years (Cortina et al. 2001). The experience of incivility has been linked to a vast variety of employee outcomes including impaired well-being and increased counterproductive work behaviors (see Schilpzand et al. 2014, for a review).

Despite the continually growing research on workplace incivility, we still lack understanding of the potential links between workplace incivility and employee experiences outside of work. Therefore, our study contributes to past research by examining the relationship between workplace incivility – a common work stressor – and employee insomnia symptoms – an employee experience in the home domain. Impaired sleep in employees has been linked to a variety of employee outcomes (e.g. accidents, lower productivity, impaired communication, impaired self-regulation; Barnes 2012) suggesting that individuals and organizations should make sufficient, high-quality sleep a priority. Therefore, understanding the link between workplace incivility and employee sleep will help clarify the harmful nature of incivility experiences and provide suggestions for job design and specific organizational interventions.

In addition, our study examines a possible mechanism linking incivility and sleep problems, namely negative work rumination outside of work. Specifically, we propose that cognitive activation, in the form of negative work rumination, will help explain the relationship between experienced workplace incivility and employee sleep problems. Finding and understanding mechanisms linking workplace incivility and employee outcomes outside of work is crucial for theory building as well as the development of workplace interventions.

We examine this proposed mediation in the context of dual-earner couples, suggesting that negative work rumination does not occur in a vacuum. Accordingly, Miner et al. (2017) suggests that incivility experiences can impact others in the victim’s social network such as coworkers, customers, or family members. Thus, while past research has focused mostly on individual outcomes of incivility it is important to examine how the incivility experiences cross over from an employee to their partner at home. Applying the idea of cognitive activation, we propose that negative work rumination outside of work in one employee will mediate the relationship between that the person’s experienced incivility and sleep problems in his or her partner. Thus, incivility experienced by one employee may be related to impaired sleep in two individuals! The negative outcomes of impaired sleep in both partners may then result in a variety of negative outcomes in two workplaces (Litwiller et al. 2017).

Recent research on workplace incivility has pointed to links between experienced incivility, and partner as well as family outcomes (Ferguson 2012; Lim et al. 2016). Our study extends the focus on partner outcomes by examining a moderator of the proposed mediation to better understand the context in which these crossover processes occur. Specifically, we suggest that the effects on partner sleep problems will be stronger for partners who are work-linked (i.e., working in the same organization or occupation). While being work-linked can provide unique resources for dual-earner couples due to higher integration of work and family roles (Halbesleben et al. 2010) it can also create additional demands and challenges for both partners. Understanding these challenges as well as associated outcomes for both partners will expand the current literature on work-family dynamics thereby providing important information for theory and practice.

In summary, we are expanding past research on outcomes of workplace incivility by proposing a moderated mediation model in dual-earner couples. Specifically, we propose that experienced incivility in the workplace will be associated with rumination outside of work as well as insomnia symptoms. We further suggest that rumination in one employee will also linked to insomnia symptoms in the employee’s partner and this relationship will be stronger in couples who are work-linked. Figure 1 displays our conceptual model.
Fig. 1

Conceptual model. The discontinuous lines indicate unhypothesized effects. The subscript A refers to actor effects while the subscript P refers to partner effects. Circles represent error terms. The hypothesized actor-to-actor mediation refers to aAbA (H3) while the actor-to-partner mediation refers to aAbP (H4). The direct actor effect, cA is drawn as the mediation effects are expected to be partial. For simplicity, this Figure does not include work-linked relationship as a moderator of the path, bP, as well as the indirect effect of aAbP

Theory and Hypothesis Development

Employees’ Experienced Incivility and Negative Work Rumination

Workplace incivility has been conceptualized as a low-intensity form of interpersonal mistreatment at work. It includes disrespectful or inconsiderate behaviors and comments that violate workplace norms of mutual respect, such as condescending or derogatory remarks, displaying little interest in an employee’s opinion, and ignoring (Andersson and Pearson 1999; Cortina et al. 2001). Incivility is commonly conceptualized as a job stressor (e.g., Taylor et al. 2014; Zhou et al. 2015) and has been linked to employee outcomes such as negative emotions (e.g., anger), impaired cognitive processes (e.g., memory recall), lower job attitudes (e.g., job satisfaction), impaired interactions with others at work (e.g., Foulk et al. 2016; Rosen et al. 2016), and negative work behaviors (e.g., workplace deviance; see Schilpzand et al. 2014, for a review).

This study focuses on negative work rumination as an intermediary outcome by drawing on processes of cognitive activation (Brosschot et al. 2006; Meurs and Perrewé 2011; Ursin and Eriksen 2004). When ruminating about work, employees replay negative events or aspects of one’s work in their minds (Cropley and Zijlstra 2011; Frone 2015). Continuously thinking about unresolved work issues prolongs the potential effects of work-related stressors or events on employee outcomes (Martin and Tesser 1996a; Martin and Tesser 1996b). The cognitive activation theory of stress (CATS; Meurs and Perrewé 2011; Ursin and Eriksen 2004) further suggests that stressful events create an alarm reaction to indicate a discrepancy between a desired and an actual state. While this alarm reaction is not a health threat per se, sustained activation or sense of alarm over time increases the likelihood of illness and disease. Thus, it is not primarily the acute stress reaction that is detrimental to an individual, but rather the sustained activation, even when the stressor is no longer present. Brosschot et al. (2006) defined perseverative cognition as “the repeated or chronic activation of the cognitive representation of one or more stressors” (p. 114). As a form of perseverative cognition, negative work rumination may sustain cognitive activation of job stressors that have already been experienced (e.g., Brosschot et al. 2005, 2006).

In the context of workplace incivility, experiencing others’ disrespect and rudeness at work may create an alarm reaction that needs to be dealt with, which may become visible in the form of negative work rumination outside of work. For example, the experience of incivility can be associated with a threat to the self, one’s embeddedness in work, and appreciation by others at work. The experience of such a threat may create arousal and become apparent in their cognition after the employee leaves work. For example, the experience of uncivil and disrespectful treatment can lead one to question one’s self-view (e.g., self-esteem, self-blame; Schilpzand et al. 2016). Accordingly, Schilpzand and colleagues (Schilpzand et al. 2016) found that experiencing incivility from a team member led to self-blame which, in turn, increased rumination. Similarly, using a daily-diary design, Nicholson and Griffin (2015) found that on days when individuals experienced workplace incivility, they were less likely to mentally disengage from work-related thoughts during the evening.

Additionally, incivility victims may wonder about possible causes of incivility due to its often ambiguous nature and ponder how to respond to the incivility instigators depending on their and instigators’ status and power in organizations (Cortina and Magley 2009). They may also worry about future interactions with the incivility perpetrators. The cognitive activation may persist after employees leave work. Accordingly, Lim and Lee (2011) found that supervisor incivility was associated with greater work-to-family conflict, suggesting that incivility-related stress can spill over to the home domain. In other words, experienced incivility at work may further influence the victims at home through increased work rumination. Therefore, we hypothesize that the experience of workplace incivility will be positively related to negative work rumination outside of work.
  • Hypothesis 1: Employees’ experienced incivility at work will be positively associated with their negative work rumination outside of work.

Employees’ Experienced Incivility and Insomnia Symptoms

Our study further contributes to past research by exploring mechanisms that can help explain the relationship between job stressors and employee sleep outcomes. Specifically, we examine negative work rumination – an indicator of cognitive arousal – as a mechanism through which incivility is associated with insomnia symptoms. Insomnia symptoms refer experiences associated with the quality or quantity of sleep, such as trouble falling or staying asleep at night and feeling tired after waking up (Driver 2016). In line with CATS, we propose that negative work rumination outside of work extends the mental representation of negative work events that can create insomnia symptoms. Specifically, negative work rumination as a form of perseverative cognitions prolongs the cognitive representation of the stressor (Brosschot et al. 2005, 2006). CATS argues that individual health and well-being are at risk through sustained activation, not through short-term arousal. Thus, frequently dwelling on negative events – also described as perseverative cognition – prolongs physiological activation (e.g., cardiovascular and endocrine activity even during sleep; Brosschot et al. 2006, 2007). Therefore, we argue that frequent sustained arousal due to negative work rumination will be associated with increased insomnia symptoms. Our study thus builds on past research that points to relationships between cognitive arousal including work-related rumination (Berset et al. 2011; Cropley et al. 2006), work-related worry (Rodríguez-Muñoz et al. 2011), problems mentally letting go of work during nonwork time (Åkerstedt et al. 2002), and insomnia symptoms in employees. We suggest that experiencing workplace incivility will be associated with negative arousal becoming apparent in negative work rumination in the home domain. The sustained arousal due to rumination can then create insomnia symptoms for the employee.
  • Hypothesis 2: Negative work rumination outside of work will mediate the relationship between experienced incivility and insomnia symptoms.

Employees’ Experienced Incivility and Partner Insomnia

The consequences of workplace incivility may not be limited to the victim but could spread to the victim’s social network (Miner et al. 2017). This means the victim’s coworkers, customers, and family members may be impacted as well and should therefore be included in studies examining the consequences of workplace incivility. Accordingly, we propose that experienced incivility will be linked to insomnia symptoms in the incivility victim’s romantic partner and that this relationship will be mediated through work rumination. This proposed mediation can be described as a spillover-crossover process (Bakker and Demerouti 2013) suggesting that an employee’s work-related experiences spill over into one’s experiences and behaviors in the home domain which then cross over to the partner. Accordingly, Ferguson (2012) examined relationships between coworker incivility and both employee and partner outcomes. Her results indicated that experienced incivility was associated with higher work-family conflict and lower marital satisfaction for the employee, as well as with lower marital satisfaction for the partner. Furthermore, these relationships were mediated by the employee’s stress transmission to the partner. Expanding on these findings, we propose negative work rumination as an important mechanism linking incivility experiences in one partner to outcomes in the other partner.

Our study is the first to focus on the link between experienced workplace incivility in one partner and insomnia symptoms in the other partner. Thus, we examine a form of crossover – a dyadic process in which the experiences of one individual (e.g., one employee) generate reactions in another individual (e.g., the employee’s partner; Westman 2001). Crossover between two partners within a couple may occur in several ways (Westman 2001). For example, crossover can occur through empathetic processes. Because partners know each other well, care for each other, and spend a considerable amount of time around each other, they are aware of and impacted by each other’s emotions and behaviors. Crossover can also occur through direct communication and interaction between two partners. Processes of empathy as well as direct communication and interaction allow cognitive arousal in one person to cross over to the other person.

In the context of this study, we combine arousal-related assumptions based on CATS with a spillover-crossover model of workplace incivility. Specifically, in the context of workplace incivility, frequent negative work rumination may lead an employee to articulate worries and concerns about specific uncivil events as well as their potential consequences to their partner more often. The partner – through empathic listening – may be processing this information affectively and cognitively thereby increasing their own arousal levels. Also, both the employee and the partner may discuss appropriate ways to respond to and cope with the incivility incidents. Accordingly, recent research indicates that partners share their thoughts and emotions regarding an uncivil event at work with each other (Tremmel and Sonnentag 2017). Thus, these interactions between partners can create cognitive activation in the partner that may make it harder for them to fall or stay asleep. As a result, the partner will experience more insomnia symptoms.
  • Hypothesis 3: Employees’ negative work rumination outside of work will mediate the relationship between their experienced incivility and partner insomnia symptoms.

The Moderating Role of Being Work-Linked

For dual-earner couples, working in the same occupation or organization (i.e., being work-linked) can result in a “blurring of work and family lives” (Janning 1999, p. 41), increasing the integration of work and nonwork roles (Halbesleben et al. 2010). The increased integration of roles can be associated with demands as well as resources that in turn can be associated with the way in which both partners interact with work as well as with each other. While being work-linked can create a stronger sense of closeness between partners (Janning 2006), the closeness may be linked to negative outcomes for both partners through negative crossover processes. Accordingly, we propose couples’ being work-linked as a moderator of the relationship between employee rumination and partner insomnia and expect that the relationship will be stronger for work-linked couples.

More permeable, integrated boundaries between work and family roles facilitate transitions between both roles (Ashforth et al. 2000). High levels of work-family integration in work-linked couples make it easier for negative work experiences to be associated with experiences in the home domain and to cross over to the partner. Because they are more “in tune” with each other’s work context, work-linked partners may show more empathetic concern for each other’s work experiences (i.e., experienced incivility). The crossover may also occur through communication and interaction in which the work-linked partner is more likely to be part of venting, ruminating, interpreting, and sense-making. Work-linked partners may also share more detailed information about their work context and experiences. Because the significant other has knowledge of the partner’s workplace or occupation, more work-related information may be shared between partners. Accordingly, work-linked couples report having more work-related conversations outside of work than couples who are not work-linked (Janning and Neely 2006). Greater knowledge may then be associated with more rumination, stronger emotional and empathetic reactions, and problem-solving attempts for the partner. All these types of reactions are associated with cognitive activation for the partner, which may impair sleep. While these may be acts of support provision, unfortunately, research indicates that providing support may come at a cost for the support-provider (Haas and Hansen 2007; Kessler and McLeod 1984). Thus, partners in work-linked couples’ may have a deeper understanding of the partner’s unique work situation and therefore may be better able to support each other’s work (Ferguson et al. 2016). At the same time, this arrangement may also allow negative work experiences to cross over between partners much more easily potentially resulting in outcomes outside of work for both partners.

Our study examines being work-linked as a relevant difference between dual-earner couples that can be related to experiences and outcomes for both partners. More specifically, building on the idea of increased cognitive activation and expanding the spillover-crossover model described above, we suggest work linkage to act as a moderator in the proposed mediation. Thus, in the case of experienced workplace incivility, stress and strain crossover can more easily occur in work-linked couples compared to partners who are not work-linked. As a result, sleep of both partners will be impaired. Thus, we hypothesize a moderated mediation in which the indirect effect of workplace incivility on partner insomnia symptoms via negative work rumination will be stronger for work-linked couples compared to couples who are not work-linked. Specifically, a work-linked relationship status will strengthen the link between employee negative work rumination outside of work and partner insomnia.
  • Hypothesis 4: The indirect effect of incivility on partner insomnia through negative work rumination outside of work will be stronger for dual-earner couples who are work-linked compared to dual-earner couples who are not work-linked.


Sample and Procedure

The data were collected from American dual-earner couples who indicated being in a heterosexual marital or cohabitating relationship. Both partners worked at least 20 h per week and typically worked day shifts. Participants were recruited via a Qualtrics Panel data collection service for a ‘hand off’ study in which recruited employees received one link to one survey with two identical parts. That is, once the recruited individuals who received the survey link completed their portion, they physically handed it off to their partner. Even though one survey was used to collect and match two partners’ responses, partners could not view each other’s responses once the survey was passed on. Participants were explicitly instructed to fill out their portion independently and to not discuss their answers before submitting both parts of the survey. The survey took about twenty minutes per person to complete and included several attention check questions designed to detect careless responses.

A total of 336 couples participated, of which 23 were excluded for not meeting our screening criteria or for finishing the survey in one third of the allotted time or less (indicating careless responses or incomplete responses). One additional couple was excluded for providing careless responses. After excluding seven additional cases with missing data, the final sample included 305 matched couples (90.8%). Participants were mostly Caucasian (79%) but also included African American (7%), Hispanic (7%), and Asian (5%) participants. The average number of years with their current partner was 15.45 (SD = 11.08), and about 66% of the couples lived with at least one child under the age of 18 years. On average, men were 43.45 years old (SD = 12.53) and women were about 41.24 years old (SD = 11.84). Results of a paired samples t-test indicated that men worked more hours per week (M = 43.91, SD = 8.95) than their female partners (M = 40.95, SD = 8.05), but this difference was very small (Cohen’s d = 0.287; t(307) = −5.04, p < .001). A large variety of occupations and industries were represented, such as education, healthcare, scientific and technical services, and construction.


Both partners reported all study variables, thinking about the last month as the frame of reference and using a 5-point rating scale unless otherwise noted. All measures showed high internal consistency estimates as presented in Table 1.
Table 1

Means, standard deviations, and intercorrelations between study variables











 1. Experienced incivility





 2. Work rumination






 3. Insomnia








 4. Experienced incivility



.38 **





 5. Work rumination




.22 **





 6. Insomnia





.29 **




 7. Women’s caffeine consumption









 8. Men’s caffeine consumption









 9. Women’s trait NA









 10. Men’s trait NA









 11. Women’s workload









 12. Men’s workload









 13. Couple’s stressful life events









Internal consistency reliabilities are presented in parentheses. Bolded values indicate correlations between both partners. Variable 7–13 are control variables and were not included in the final model. Having children and sleeping in the same bed were not included in this table because they had zero correlations with all the study variables, except that having children was negatively related to women’s work rumination (r = −.17**). NA = negative affectivity

*p < .05. **p < .01

Workplace Incivility

We used a seven-item scale (Cortina et al. 2001) to measure workplace incivility. Participants reported to what extent they experienced incivility incidents from somebody at work (supervisors/superiors, coworkers, customers/clients, and vendors/suppliers). Sample items included “Somebody at work ignored or excluded you from professional camaraderie” and “Somebody at work put you down or was condescending to you.” (1 = not at all to 5 = very often).

Negative Work Rumination

We used Frone’s (2015) four-item scale to measure negative work rumination. Sample items were: “How often in the past month have you found yourself preoccupied with the negative aspects of your job even after you left work?” and “How often in the past month have you thought back to the bad things that happened at work even when you were away from work?” (1 = seldom or never to 5 = very often or always).


Insomnia was measured with four-items (Jenkins et al. 1996, 1988). Participants were asked to think about the past month when responding. Sample items included, “I woke up several times during the night” and “I had trouble falling asleep.” (1 = not during the past month to 5 = almost every night).


We adapted Halbesleben’s (2010) question and answering options to a single item. Specifically, participants were asked whether their partner worked in the same occupation/job or for the same organization as they did. The response options were “yes” and “no,” and for each couple we cross-checked both partners’ responses. In the four cases in which one of the partners did not provide a response, we used their partner’s response. Only one couple indicated a disagreement, and we resolved this case by checking each partner’s specifications of job tasks, occupation, and industry information. As a result, 41 couples indicated their work linkage (13.4%), and the remaining 264 couples were not work-linked (86.6%).1 While three possible subtypes of work-linked couples may exist (sharing an organization, an occupation, or both occupation and organization; Halbesleben 2010), we combined these categories together into one as is common in the literature (e.g., Ferguson 2012; Ferguson et al. 2016; Halbesleben et al. 2012). More importantly, previous research showed no significant differences among the work-linked groups in terms of major work-family experiences, such as spousal support, work-family conflict, work-family integration, and emotional exhaustion (Halbesleben et al. 2010, 2012).

Control Variables

To examine the robustness of our final model, we measured several control variables. Specifically, we examined caffeine consumption (1 = never to 8 = six or more cups per day), having children (yes, no), sleeping in the same bed (yes, no), trait negative affect (NA), workload, and major stressful live events. We measured trait NA with ten-items (Watson et al. 1988) asking to what extent participants experienced negative moods in general (e.g., “afraid”, “nervous”; 1 = never to 5 = always; α = .93 for men and .94 for women). We measured workload using Spector and Jex’s (1998) five-item Quantitative Workload Scale (e.g., “How often did your job require you to work very fast?”; 1 = very rarely or never to 5 = very frequently; α = .91 for men and .91 for women). Finally, we adapted the Stressful Life Events Checklist (Scully et al. 2000) to assess recent major stressful life events (i.e., “In the past month, have you experienced ant major, stressful life event, such as death of a family member, illness/injury of yourself or a family member, financial difficulties, etc.?”; yes, no).

Data Analysis

Because couples in our study were living together and therefore shared some life circumstances, responses of both partners were not independent from each other. Thus, we tested our hypothesized model with the Actor-Partner Interdependence Mediation Model (APIMeM) that incorporates nonindependent dyadic responses into the analyses (Ledermann et al. 2011). A standard APIMeM adds two mediator variables (a mediator for each partner in a dyad) to the basic Actor-Partner Interdependent Model (APIM) that consists of two pairs of measured variables – an independent and a dependent variable for each Partner A and Partner B – and one pair of residual error terms for the dependent variables (Kenny et al. 2006). In APIM, an actor effect refers to the effect of one’s independent variable on his/her own dependent variable while a partner effect refers to the effect of one’s independent variable on the partner’s dependent variable. Error terms are set to correlate to reflect that the residuals covary between dyad members due to unmeasured common causes that are not explained by the study variables in APIM. This approach is also recommended to account for the dyad members’ nonindenpendence in the model (Kenny et al. 2006). In our APIMeM, there were two sets of error terms as we have one pair for the mediators (i.e., rumination for Partner A and Partner B) and another for the dependent variables (i.e., insomnia for Partner A and Partner B). Also, following recommendations in APIM and APIMeM (Kenny et al. 2006; Ledermann et al. 2011), we correlated both partners’ independent variables to control for the effects of the other person when estimating the actor and partner effects (e.g., estimating the actor effect while controlling for the partner’s influence).

A standard APIMeM for distinguishable members in a dyad is a fully saturated model in which all the possible paths are drawn among study variables (Ledermann et al. 2011). In this full APIMeM, there were a total of six pairs of effects (see Fig. 1). To distinguish actor and partner effects, we used subscripts, A and P, respectively. Three pairs of actor effects include the actor effect of incivility on rumination (aA) and insomnia (cA) and the actor effect of rumination on insomnia (bA). The other three pairs include the partner effects: the effect of one’s incivility on the partner’s rumination (aP) and insomnia (cP) and the effect of one’s rumination on the partner’s insomnia (bP). We followed Ledermann et al.’s (2011) recommendations for model specification and simplification in APIMeM: (a) treating distinguishable members in a dyad (i.e., male and female partners in our study) as interchangeable when empirical indistinguishability is shown and (b) estimating only hypothesized paths based on theory (i.e., aA, bA, cA, bP,) and removing unhypothesized paths (i.e., aP, cP) from a saturated APIMeM.

We used path modeling with Mplus 7.3 (Muthén & Muthén 1998–2014) for our model estimation. As Shrout and Bolger (2002) recommend for estimating mediation effects (i.e., aAbA and aAbP), we conducted bootstrap analyses with 95% Confidence Intervals (CI) for unstandardized effects, using 5000 resamples. Additionally, to test moderation effects, we conducted a multi-group analysis (Ryu 2015) by comparing our hypothesized model across work-linked and non-linked couples. We used maximum likelihood estimation throughout the analyses and assessed goodness of model fit with the Tucker–Lewis index (TLI), the comparative fit index (CFI), and the root-mean-square error of approximation (RMSEA). Values greater than or equal to .95 for TLI and CFI, and values less than or equal to .06 for the RMSEA (Hu and Bentler 1999) indicate good model fit.


Preliminary Analyses and Model Assessment

Table 1 shows the descriptive statistics and bivariate correlations. Before testing our conceptual model, we first conducted an omnibus test to examine if male and female partners were interchangeable in our data by constraining all study variables’ means, variances, and covariances to be equal across the male and female partners (Kenny et al. 2006; Ledermann et al. 2011). This gender-equated model fit the data well and therefore served as our baseline model (χ2 (12) = 25.074, p = .014; RMSEA = .060, p = .279 with 90% CI [.026; .093]; TLI = .958; CFI = .966). Thus, we treated women and men equal in our analyses and used gender-neutral terms (i.e., Partner A and Partner B) in Table 1 and Fig. 1.

Next, to compare the gender-equated APIMeM to our hypothesized model, we estimated our hypothesized model by deleting two pairs of unhypothesized paths in the previous full APIMeM (i.e., Partner A’s incivility ➔ Partner B’s rumination and insomnia; aP and cP, respectively2) because we did not expect that employees’ experienced incivility at work would directly increase their partner’s rumination and insomnia. Results showed that our hypothesized model also fit the data well (χ2 (14) = 29.955, p = .007; RMSEA = .061, p = .245 with 90% CI [.030; .091]; TLI = .953; CFI = .953). The chi-square difference test showed that the fit of our model was not significantly worse than that of the baseline APIMeM (Δ χ2 (2) = 4.881, ns; ΔRMSEA = .001; ΔTLI = .002; ΔCFI = .009), suggesting that the two models were not significantly different. Accordingly, we retained the more parsimonious hypothesized model as our final model.

Hypothesis Testing

Actor Effects

In the final model (Fig. 2), one’s experienced incivility was positively related to his or her own rumination (aA = .723, SE = .048, t = 15.215, p < .001), which supported the actor effect proposed in Hypothesis 1. Rumination was further positively related to insomnia symptoms (bA = .322, SE = .045, t = 7.186, p < .001). In our Hypothesis 2, we predicted an actor-to-actor mediation effect (aAbA) suggesting that one’s experienced incivility would be related to his or her insomnia via his or her rumination. This indirect effect was supported by our data (aAbA = .233, SE = .036, t = 6.497, p < .001 with 95% CI [.163; .303]). Note that the direct path from one’s experienced incivility to insomnia symptoms was also significant (cA = .186, SE = .062, t = 3.007, p = .003), suggesting a partial mediation. Thus, results provide support for Hypothesis 2.
Fig. 2

Estimated, gender-equated APIMeM according to hypotheses. Unstandardized estimates are reported. The subscript A refers to actor effects while the subscript P refers to partner effects. The indirect effect of actor-to-partner (aAbP) was only significant for work-linked couples. *p < .001

Partner Effects

Hypothesis 3 predicted that one’s experienced incivility would be positively related to the partner’s insomnia through the incivility recipient’s rumination, indicating the partner effect of rumination on insomnia (bP) and actor-to-partner mediation (aAbP). However, the results revealed that one’s rumination was not significantly related to the partner’s insomnia (bP = .049, SE = .038, t = 1.285, p = .199) and, as such, the actor-to-partner mediation was not significant (aAbP = .035, SE = .028, t = 1.280, p = .200 with 95% CI [−.019; .090]). Therefore, Hypothesis 3 was not supported.

Moderator Effect of Work-Linkage

Hypothesis 4 proposed that work-linked relationship status would moderate the indirect effect of incivility on the partner’s insomnia, such that the effect of incivility on partner insomnia via rumination would be stronger for partners in work-linked relationships. As our moderating variable is a grouping variable, we conducted a multi-group analysis (Ryu 2015) by comparing our final model between work-linked vs. non-linked couples. In other words, we assessed the change in model fit between a model constraining the path from one’s rumination to partner insomnia (bP) to be equal across the two groups of couples and another model lifting the equality constraint. We also examined significance of the indirect effects (aAbP) in both groups across the constraining vs. nonconstraining model. This equality constraint reduced the model fit significantly (Δ χ2 (1) = 7.187, p = .007), indicating that work-linkedness moderated the partner effect of rumination on insomnia. When the equality constraint was lifted in the multi-group analysis, results showed a significant positive path from one’s rumination to partner insomnia in work-linked couples (bP = .361, SE = .149, t = 2.421, p = .015), whereas this partner effect (bP = −.028, SE = .052, t = −0.534, p = .594) was not significant in non-linked couples. More importantly, the indirect actor-to-partner effect was significant only among work-linked couples (aAbP = .362, SE = .167, t = 2.165, p = .030 with 95% CI [.035; .691]), but this indirect effect did not occur among couples who were not work-linked (aAbP = −.019, SE = .037, t = −0.529, p = .597 with 95% CI [−.091; .052]). Thus, Hypothesis 4 was supported. Work-linked relationship status operated as a boundary condition for the indirect actor-to-partner effect of one’s incivility on partner insomnia via the incivility recipient’s rumination, in that this effect was not significant when collapsing all types of couples into one group (as we tested in Hypothesis 3). Thus, the exact nature of the moderation effect was much stronger than expected.

Additional Analyses

Following recommendations by Spector and Brannick (2011), we conducted additional analyses to examine the robustness of our findings by comparing the significance of our path coefficients with and without the following control variables: trait NA, workload, common life stress, having children in the household, caffeine intake, and sleeping in the same bed. We included both partners’ trait NA in the model (i.e., drawing paths from each partner’s NA to all study variables) to exclude the possibility that our findings are mainly due to the stress-prone affective disposition. The significance of our results remained the same, except that the direct actor effect of incivility on insomnia turned nonsignificant. Also, the results did not change when each of the control variables (workload, common life stress, children in the household, caffeine consumption, and sleeping in the same bed) was included in a separate model.


While research on antecedents and outcomes of workplace incivility is growing, the focus so far has mostly been on individual processes and mainly examined work-related or general well-being outcomes. Because past research in the context of dual-earner relationships indicates that employees’ experiences at work can impact their partner, it is important to examine the role of dyadic processes in employee outcomes. Therefore, by connecting the sleep and workplace incivility literatures, this study examined a spillover-crossover model in which workplace incivility, as an interpersonal stressor, is linked to employee as well as partner insomnia through negative work rumination in the home domain. We found that employees’ experienced incivility at work was positively related to their own work rumination, which in turn, was linked to their insomnia symptoms. Furthermore, our results suggest a moderated mediation effect in which experienced workplace incivility in one employee is positively associated with the partner’s insomnia symptoms through the employee’s work rumination in the home domain. However, this employee-to-partner mediation effect was observed only among work-linked couples.

Theoretical Implications

Our study is one of the first linking workplace incivility – as a job stressor that may be linked to increased cognitive activation – and employee sleep, and the findings have important implications for both incivility and sleep literatures. First, examining specific stressors is important in stress-sleep research because not all job stressors were shown to be associated with cognitive arousal and impaired sleep (Sonnentag et al. 2016, for a review). Thus, in line with CATS, our findings suggest that the experience of incivility may create an alarm reaction and prolonged arousal through staying mentally connected to and negatively reflecting about work during nonwork time (i.e., negative work rumination). Second, recent research started examining the outcomes of incivility in the home domain such as withdrawn or angry marital behaviors (Lim et al. 2016). Our study added to this literature by focusing on employee sleep. Considering that poor sleep is likely to result in negative work behaviors and outcomes (Barnes 2012), the current incivility-insomnia link corroborates the notion that workplace incivility as a prevalent interpersonal stressor should be taken seriously. In sum, this study provides an important stepping-stone for studying mechanisms that link workplace incivility and outcomes in the home domain.

Taking the dyadic aspects of dual-earner couples and the spillover-crossover framework into account, we further examined the extent to which workplace incivility and rumination in one partner can be linked to outcomes in the other partner, proposing a crossover of experiences. Thus, our study answered the call for more research on outcomes of other individuals beyond incivility targets by focusing on partner sleep (Miner et al. 2017). Although incivility was not related to partner insomnia through employee work rumination for all couples, our results showed that the proposed crossover only occurred for partners that worked in the same occupation or organization. Thus, being work-linked may foster processes (e.g., better understanding the partner’s work role, higher empathy with the partner’s work experiences, sharing more work experiences) that create higher cognitive activation for the partner, which – in line with CATS – can be associated with rumination and worry. These forms of cognitive activation can then create sleep problems for the partner. This finding points to an important boundary condition (being work-linked) for the spillover and crossover of workplace incivility. Recent research (e.g., Halbesleben et al. 2012) indicates being work-linked as an important variable in understanding crossover processes in dual-earner couples. Building on these findings, our results point to the important role of moderators in finding and understanding crossover processes.

Limitations and Future Research

Our study is not without limitations. For example, although we obtained and matched both partners’ responses, dyadic data is not immune to self-report biases. Thus, we recommend using multi-source data in future research to help reduce common method bias (Podsakoff et al. 2003). For example, including objective assessments of sleep (e.g., sleep actigraphy) could provide more detailed information about sleep duration, sleep onset latency, and sleep-wakefulness cycles (Pilcher et al. 2012). Given no pre-established relationships between workplace incivility and partner insomnia in the literature, we decided to examine the relationships cross-sectionally based on a priori theory. The findings based on cross-sectional data cannot rule out the possibility of reverse causation in which insomnia leads to experienced workplace incivility. We hope that our study findings will serve as a basis for future studies to longitudinally examine the spillover-crossover process of incivility in predicting insomnia.

When interpreting our findings, we need to take into account that some of our sample characteristics may limit the generalizability of our findings. Specifically, our sample included cohabitating, heterosexual dual-earner couples in the U.S., with each partner working mostly dayshifts at least 20 h per week. While focusing on these sample characteristics provided a more homogenous sample, our findings are not able to answer questions with regard to wider sample characteristics. For example, considering that LGBTQ employees may experience more workplace incivility in general (Zurbrügg and Miner 2016), more complex patterns in stress crossover may occur (e.g., Williamson et al. 2017). Thus, future research should examine same-sex couples as well as couples with a broader range of individual and work characteristics (e.g., shift workers, different cultural contexts) to arrive at a clearer and more comprehensive understanding of stress spillover-crossover processes. In addition, despite implementing several screening criteria and attention checks and providing specific instructions around the procedure of the study, it is possible that not all respondents fully complied with our instructions. However, the noncompliance issue did not seem to be a threat to the validity of our findings because we would not have been able to find support for our model results if the issue had been prevailing.

In addition, while our study attempted to capture all potential incivility perpetrators at work this method does not allow us to delve into potentially different or similar effects of incivility sources on work rumination and insomnia. It is possible that supervisor incivility may be more strongly linked to negative work rumination and insomnia due to the supervisor’s status and power. Alternatively, future research may examine multiple sources of incivility concurrently and then test their additive and interactive effects. For example, incivility experiences from two sources (i.e., coworkers and customers) can interact with each other to aggravate effects on employee outcomes (e.g., Sliter et al. 2012).

Furthermore, while our findings highlight the importance of being work-linked in crossover experiences of dual-earner couples, we encourage future research to examine outcomes of being work-linked in more depth. For example, it is important to understand when the increase in closeness due to work linkage can help and when it may hinder work and home functioning of both partners. Future research may also examine the different forms of work-linkage (i.e., working in the same occupation versus the same organization) and their potential relevance for employee and partner outcomes. Furthermore, future research may also expand the conceptual model tested in this study by incorporating experiences of the partner (e.g., worry or distress) that may act as mediators in the link between workplace incivility experienced by the employee and the partner’s insomnia symptoms.

Future research should also examine other possible moderating variables in the relationship between workplace incivility, negative work rumination, and impaired sleep in both partners. For example, job-related resources (e.g., social support at work) may help reduce negative spillover effects of incivility on outcomes in the home domain (Sakurai and Jex 2012). Also, both partners’ joint attempt at coping with stressful experiences may be an alleviating factor in the link between one’s negative work rumination and partner insomnia (Ledermann et al. 2010).

Practical Implications

Our findings indicate relationships between experienced incivility at work and outcomes in the home domain thereby adding to past research pointing to the detrimental outcomes of workplace incivility. Therefore, organizations, as well as employees, should do everything in their power to reduce the occurrence of workplace incivility in the first place. Specifically, we encourage work organizations to implement procedures that help reduce the occurrence of workplace incivility (e.g., zero-tolerance policies or leader role modeling). Given that employees may not be able to avoid the experience of workplace incivility at all times, organizations should develop strategies and interventions that support employees in coping with experienced incivility (Leiter et al. 2012, 2011; Pearson and Porath 2005).

As suggested in our study, negative work rumination may be a mechanism through which employees bring the experience of workplace incivility into the home domain. Therefore, interventions that can help alleviate rumination may help reduce work-family spillover as well as crossover in dual-earner couples. For example, cognitive-behavioral therapy – which equips individuals with the skills to restructure dysfunctional cognitions and behavioral patterns – can be effective in reducing negative work rumination as well as insomnia symptoms (Barnes et al. 2018; Querstret et al. 2016). In addition, coping strategies (e.g., cognitive avoidance coping; Cheng and McCarthy 2013), as well as psychological detachment from work (i.e., mentally letting go of work) during nonwork time through engagement in leisure activities (e.g., Sonnentag et al. 2014) can help alleviate negative work rumination in the home domain. Furthermore, mindfulness practice at work and home (e.g., meditation) has been shown to be helpful in dealing with a variety of stressors (Good et al. 2016; Haun et al. 2018) and therefore may help reduce the cognitive arousal associated with experienced incivility. By reducing the cognitive activation, mindfulness practice can alleviate negative outcomes in the home domain (i.e., work-related rumination and sleep problems).

Our results further suggest that negative work rumination is only linked to partner insomnia symptoms in work-linked couples. Thus, an awareness of the potential role of workplace experiences for both partners in work-linked dual-earner couples would help recognize and alleviate the potential negative effects on both partners. For example, information about the benefits and risks of being work-linked could be shared with work-linked dual-earner couples during selection and socialization processes. For example, organizations can offer training programs on recovery from work demands and stressors (Hahn et al. 2011), which can be an effective intervention for recovery from work demands, sleep, and well-being in both partners. Thus, both partners can learn how to better unwind from work stress and reduce negative spillover from the work to the home domain. Furthermore, organizations should collaborate with stress management practitioners (e.g., Employee Assistant Program experts) to develop couple-focused stress management programs for work-linked couples. Similarly, health professionals (e.g., family and marriage counselors) could utilize the information to guide and inform their clients of the role of partner experiences in their own sleep problems. Furthermore, both partners can encourage each other to engage in mindfulness practice (or even engage in the practice together) thereby reducing cognitive activation and improving sleep for both partners.


This study built on research around workplace incivility and employee sleep to examine insomnia symptoms in dual-earner couples. Based on the idea of cognitive activation and work-family spillover, we predicted a spillover-crossover model of workplace incivility. Our findings suggest negative work rumination outside of work as a mechanism linking experienced workplace incivility and sleep problems. Furthermore, our results point to the role of being work-linked in outcomes for both partners. Thus, our study indicates that the work experiences of one partner can potentially create sleep problems for both partners. The outcomes of those sleep problems can then become apparent in two workplaces. We hope that these findings encourage future research on dual-earner couples’ experiences in the work and home domain.


  1. 1.

    In our sample, 31 couples worked in the same or similar occupation (e.g., school teachers, nurses and medics, IT technicians, engineers, managerial and administrative jobs, pet groomers, etc.) and 10 couples worked for the same organizations (e.g., business owners, and their partners who were co-owners or worked in the same organization; or both partners in the army).

  2. 2.

    In the baseline model, these two partner effects were not significant (aP = −.077, SE = 0.048, t = −1.615, p = .106; cP = .095, SE = 0.063, t = 1.511, p = .131).


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Portland State UniversityPortlandUSA
  2. 2.University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignChampaignUSA

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