Email Incivility: Dealing with Rude Workplace Emails Can Create Lingering Stress
Wed, April 21, 2021

Email Incivility: Dealing with Rude Workplace Emails Can Create Lingering Stress


Many employees use e-mail for work communication on an everyday basis, most especially today that people are working from home due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Email is quick, simple, and allows mass sending of messages. But while it is an effective medium to utilize to get our message out there, it is also detached, distant, and can sometimes be rude.

Impolite email experiences

Two studies led by a researcher from the University of Illinois at Chicago even recently show that dealing with rude workplace emails can create a linger stress on the person and take a toll on their family life and well-being. The study, which appeared in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, suggests that email incivility or impolite emails can have a negative effect on productivity, work responsibilities, and may even be associated with insomnia at night. Consequently, it can relate to negative emotions in the next working day.

Lead author Zhenyu Yuan, who is also the assistant professor of managerial studies in the College of Business Administration, shared via that given the prevalent use of electronic communication nowadays, it is reasonable to say that it is becoming an increasing concern. To come up with such findings, the team surveyed 233 working employees in the US. They were asked about their impolite email experiences. In the second study, which the team refers to as the “diary study,” they examined the spillover effect of email incivility on the well-being of employees. For instance, did they experience trouble falling or staying asleep?



The two forms of email rudeness

Yuan mentioned that there are two forms of email rudeness. One is the active email rudeness and the second is the passive email rudeness. The first form of email rudeness is a form of derogatory or demeaning remarks from the sender made about the email recipient. It suggests to the recipient that the sender is mistreating him or her. On the other hand, passive email rudeness happens when the recipient simply ignores the opinion or request of the sender. This second form of email rudeness makes it difficult to know whether the receiver actually intended to ignore the request or simply forgot to answer.

The lead author explained that since electronic communications are secure stored, people tend to constantly check for a response to their request or revisit the disturbing email. By doing so, however, it only aggravates the distress of email impoliteness.

The need to psychologically detach from a stressful workday

The researchers encouraged employees to psychologically detach from a stressful workday, especially after they receive rude emails. For instance, they can unplug from work after hours. As much as possible, managers are also encouraged to set reasonable and clear expectations regarding email communications. Yuan concluded that efforts to address rude workplace emails should not be interpreted as creating pressure for managers and employees to always check their emails or respond to emails. Doing so would be “telepressure.” Instead, there should be a reasonable and clear communication norm so that it will be effective in addressing the needs of both parties.



Workplace telepressure

Last year, Larissa K. Barber from the Department of Psychology at the San Diego State University and the team also conducted a study on workplace telepressure and work-life balance outcomes. They said that workplace technology has posed some challenges to the wellbeing of workers. They define telepressure as the urge or preoccupation to respond quickly to message-based communications. They also found a link between workplace telepressure and work-family conflict and suggested three recovery mechanisms, which are control, relaxation, and detachment.

Meanwhile, the American Institute of Stress published that occupational pressures are believed to be responsible for 30% of workers suffering from back pain, 20% feeling fatigued, 28% complaining of stress, and 13% with headaches. Job stress likewise carries a price tag. In the US alone, job stress is estimated to cost companies more than $300 billion a year due to absenteeism, accidents, employee turnover, diminished productivity, direct legal, medical, and insurance costs, and workers’ compensation awards as well as tort.



Work email: statistics

According to Campaign Monitor, there are about 124.5 billion business emails send and received every day in 2018. In the same year, there are about 111.1 billion consumer emails send and received each day. At a personal level, the average office worker receives 121 emails per day and these emails come in various forms, such as event invitation, deals, content, and beyond. The figure is expected to grow to 319.6 billion daily emails in tota in 2021 from 269 billion in 2017.

Statista also published that the most popular email client is Apple iPhone (28%) followed by Gmail (26%), Outlook (9%), Apple iPad (9%), Apple Mail (8%), Yahoo! Mail (7%), (2%), Google Android (2%), Samsung Mail (2%), and Thunderbird (1%). The percentages were based on 834 million emails opened worldwide between March 1 and April 1, 2019, alone.

As the number of emails received increased, so too does studies that email overload is also not a good thing. Harvard Business Review, for instance, said that it takes an average of 20 minutes to regain our initial momentum following an interruption. This means that if you are interrupted by an email, you need 20 minutes to get back to a task that you were previously working on.

When we also allow our work to be interrupted by benign distractions, like text messages and emails, the University of London study found that we can lose as many as 10 IQ points. This is why multitasking is a myth as it reduces our mental energy and degrades our clarity. The trouble, though, is that there are people who find multitasking enjoyable. After all, who knows what the next message or email holds in store? Finding out the message offers our brain instant gratification and staying on-task or resisting distraction requires mental effort and discipline.

Rude emails have now become one of the emerging workplace stressors and it needs attention from the top to the bottom of a company or organization. We need to reduce its impact, such as by having an email schedule, avoid checking emails in the evening, or setting up an email strategy.