How your partner’s career suffers when you receive rude emails

Getting a rude email at work is not just going to ruin your day — it’s also going to ruin your partner’s day later. These are long-lasting effects of email incivility that a recent study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior explored.

The researchers found that employees who are the victims of frequent email incivility — which they broadly define as “rude messages, time-sensitive messages sent with inadequate notice, and ignored requests made via email” — carry that bad energy with them to their home. They transmit the stress over that rude email to their partners in their downtime and it causes both partners to withdraw from work the following week.

Rude emails hurt your partner’s work behavior

Partners can pick up what kind of mood we are in when we get home from work. Using online survey data from 167 dual-earner couples on how they handled stress at home and at work, the researchers found that we can infect our partners with our work stress, which in turn causes both partners to withdraw from work.

Withdrawing from work is a coping mechanism to draining effects of stress. We avoid work because we have to preserve our energy. Not only did employees with rude emails disengage from work, the stress crossover effect also caused their partners to withdraw from work too. These disengaged partners took longer lunch breaks, took more bathroom breaks than allowed, and said they put less effort than they should have at their jobs.

Employees’ ability to let bad work days go also influenced how they interacted with their partners. Employees passed greater stress onto their partner if they ruminated more about their bad work week than employees who had less negative work reflection.

Why rude emails sting

We already know that we are sensitive to rude behavior. We are not immune even if we are not the ones being insulted. Just witnessing someone’s rude behavior is enough to ruin our mood for the rest of the day as if we had been the recipient of it ourselves. You may think that one brusque demand is just words but it causes a spillover effect into your work and home life.

Online rudeness hurts because it is harder for us to see the source. Because virtual tone is hard to read, a rude email is frustratingly ambiguous. Did he really mean to ignore me? Why was my work not hyperlinked?

“Sense‐making attempts may make incivility episodes more salient in the minds of incivility recipients and continue to create frustrations, thereby draining them,” the researchers said about why emailed rudeness particularly stings.

To avoid someone else’s rudeness from derailing our day and careers, employers need to role model good email etiquette and establish codes of conduct for how we should talk to each other online, researchers recommend. They should also pay particular attention to remote employees who may be the more likely victims of email incivility.

And for employees who get the brunt of a rude remark? Try establishing an end-of-day routine, so that you can learn to stop dwelling in the past and you can be fully present for your partners by the time you open your home’s door.