Rude Emails Cause Anxiety And Kill Productivity

With more employees working from home, the use of emails to communicate with coworkers has increased. What has also increased is the number of passive aggressive rude messages, which in turn is causing a rise in anxiety, sleeplessness, and loss of productivity.

Two studies led by a University of Illinois Chicago researcher show that dealing with rude emails at work can create lingering stress and take a toll on your well-being and family life.

In the first study, researchers surveyed 233 working employees in the U.S. about their impolite email experiences and collected their appraisals. In the second study, researchers conducted a diary study to examine the spillover effects of email rudeness on well-being, including employees' trouble falling and staying asleep.

Researchers asked participants to either upload or describe a rude e-mail encounter they had experienced recently and to report their reactions to it. Based on the content and description of the exchange, the researchers classified two distinct forms of rude emails.

Participants regarded active rudeness as emotionally charged, and they reported a great deal of ambiguity and uncertainty about passive rudeness. Derogatory remarks—active rudeness—often suggests to the recipient that the sender has mistreated him or her. The "silent treatment"—or passive email rudeness—leaves people hanging and struggling with uncertainty, making it difficult to know whether the receiver simply forgot to answer the email or actually intended to ignore it.

The research, published by the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, found that impolite emails can have a negative effect on work responsibilities and productivity and is even linked to insomnia at night, which further relates to negative emotions the next morning. Passive email rudeness may create problems for employees' sleep, which further puts them in a negative emotional state the next morning, thus creating a vicious cycle. Bryan Robinson, Ph.D. "Enlighten-Success and Productivity-Respect-Boundaries-Strategies Checklist" (Sep. 26, 2020).

Commentary and Checklist

To mitigate negative email stress, the researchers urge employees to "psychologically detach" from a stressful workday after receiving rude emails. The best option is to unplug from work after-hours. Whenever possible, managers also should set clear and reasonable expectations regarding email communications.

Try these tips:

Use standard fonts and formatting. Avoid multiple font colors, sizes, and styles. Never use Emojis in a formal email.

Include a clear subject line to tell the recipient immediately what the message is about, i.e., a change of meeting time or follow up question, so they can find it again quickly.

Send email from a professional email address if possible, or a personal email address that is appropriate for the workplace.

Use professional greetings and introduce yourself if you are communicating with someone you do not know.

If you are emailing someone in another country, it is a best practice to research customs in that country. Miscommunication can easily happen because of cultural differences, especially in writing when you don’t see the other person’s body language to accompany the message.

word of every sentence as well as proper nouns. Avoid using all caps on any of the words. Finally, because proper spelling and grammar are important when sending business correspondence, proofread your email. Read out loud every word to ensure there are no errors. Many mistakes occur when you simply read with your eyes, as your brain supplies words that are not actually there.

Here are some other strategies for maintaining respectful boundaries:

  • Focus on respect. The importance of seeing others as "simply human."
  • Remember that everyone has thoughts, feelings, plans, dreams and hopes.
  • Remember that everyone wants to be heard and accepted as they are.
  • Remember that each person is different, so they will have different boundaries. You can respect these different boundaries by listening fully and paying attention to verbal and nonverbal cues.
  • People tend to speak three times louder while on the phone, so when a person is on the phone, an average of 10 feet is considered a respectful distance.
  • During a meal, set your phone to vibrate and be sure to wait until after it is over to check your messages.
  • Your clothing reflects your co-workers and your company, so dress appropriately.
  • Respecting your colleagues also means abstaining from "borrowing" from them, whether that means their office supplies or their lunches.
  • Clean up the areas where you work, the kitchen where everyone microwaves their lunches and drinks coffee, and around the copy machine.
  • Above all, realize that your behavior affects the people around you.
  • If you have a problem with someone, address the person directly.
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