Email has become a major form of communication, and is even more common now as more companies are allowing their employees to telework. Unlike face-to-face interactions, email communication can be tricky because social cues, body language, and tones of voice are removed, making such connections seem distant and detached [1, 2].
Unfortunately, we have all received a rude email from a colleague or a boss. A 2009 study found that 90% of professionals have experienced some form of a disrespectful email exchange at work. However, these rude, impolite, and/or demanding emails that we receive can take a larger psychological toll than we think and create lingering stress .
One work experiment found that when individuals received an impolite email from their boss, they “experienced more negative emotions, found it harder to stay engaged in work tasks, and answered fewer questions correctly than the control group” . These types of messages can have a mental effect for longer than you may think as well; those who received a rude email during the work day reported higher levels and symptoms of stress that evening and the following morning .
Rude work emails can affect those around us as well. When we receive such messages, we tend to become more anxious, nervous, and fatigued, and as a result, may withdraw from our work [2, 3]. We can also unintentionally put our stress on our family, friends, and loved ones. Researchers found that when employees receive more frequent uncivil emails during the work week, not only do they withdraw from their own work during the current and following week, but their partners also withdraw from their work the following week due to the “transmission” of stress .
Moreover, while actively rude, or offensive, emails are common and easy to distinguish, what most people tend to find the most difficult to cope with is passive rudeness (i.e. the “silent treatment” or the avoidance of certain questions, creating uncertainty) .
So what’s the best way to cope? Here are a few suggestions :
- Managers: communicate deadlines and directions clearly within their emails, while also setting reasonable expectations
- Employees: practice “psychological detachment” and avoid checking email after work hours. This will prevent work stresses from affecting one’s personal life and relationships.
- Everyone: remember the rules of email etiquette! Take the time to properly draft your emails and make sure your requests are acknowledged and considerate. If you are more polite and clear in your messages to others, the hope is that your colleagues will follow suit and send equally clear and polite emails back to you!
1. Yuan Z, Park Y. The Psychological Toll of Rude E-mails [Internet]. Scientific American. 2020 [cited 1 August 2020]. Available from: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-psychological-toll-of-rude-e-mails/
2. Boss sent a rude mail? It can stress you and your family out [Internet]. The Economic Times. 2018 [cited 1 August 2020]. Available from: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/magazines/panache/boss-sent-a-rude-mail-it-can-stress-you-and-your-family-out/articleshow/65040769.cms
3. Herzlich J. Curbing rudeness in workplace communications [Internet]. Newsday. 2019 [cited 1 August 2020]. Available from: https://www.newsday.com/business/small-business-cyber-rudeness-1.28062127