If you write an email like this, it can cause irreparable damage

Rude work emails often come in different forms but all equally sting the same way. Whether it’s a passive-aggressive inbox alert from a coworker to a rude in-the-moment tongue full from a boss, angry or rude emails are every employee’s worst nightmare.

The way in which words themselves are crafted can pack a different punch, as a recent study found that even certain words — like stretchable words — might mean something entirely different than they do on the surface.

Now more than ever, email is the way in which we communicate for all work functions. The coronavirus pandemic has created a digital landscape where most businesses can only operate due to social distancing measures limiting office exposure.

That’s changed the playing field a bit — and if managers and employees were smart, they’d think twice about how a rude email finds someone next time.

New research led by a researcher from the University of Illinois at Chicago found that rude emails at work can lead to distress for employees that can leave lingering stress and even extend on one’s well-being and their life at home.

The study, published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, found that rude or toxic emails can negatively impact areas at work such as work responsibilities and employee productivity, while it could linger at home by affecting sleep by way of insomnia.

Lead author Zhenyu Yuan and co-authors gathered 233 working employees in the US together to see how they react to impolite emails. In the first study, participants’ reactions were collected, while a separate study looked into how email rudeness affected participants’ well-being on things such as sleep.

“Given the prevalent use of emails in the workplace, it is reasonable to conclude this problem is becoming an increasing concern,” Yuan said.

Yuan explained that his study discovered two forms of email rudeness: active versus passive.

Active email rudeness is when someone uses demeaning or disrespectful language used to explain the recipient in an email to said recipient. It’s perceived by the recipient that the sender has mistreated them. Passive email rudeness, which can be difficult to spot, is when a “request or opinion” seems to be ignored by the sender.

Yuan explained that emails can sit in inboxes well after they are read, which causes a harmful trip down memory lane for the recipient.

“Because emails are securely stored, people may have a tendency to revisit a disturbing email or constantly check for a response that they requested, which may only aggravate the distress of email rudeness,” he said.

Researchers suggested the obvious: turn off your device. Avoiding or unplugging after work hours can be helpful for employees, while managers should also be aware of what is appropriate email correspondence.

“It should be noted that efforts to address email rudeness should not be interpreted as the same as creating pressure for employees and managers to always check their email and respond to emails (i.e., telepressure),” Yuan said in a press release. “On the contrary, setting clear and reasonable communications norms can prove effective in addressing both.”

Recently, Ladders tackled another pitfall with email: the one-word email. While it’s been used by power players across multiple industries, experts told us that it can do more harm than good.

“That’s the root cause of failure in any team you work on,” he said. “One-word emails are just one example of not being very effective at communicating and it’s not a great recipe for success if you take it as a default method,” an expert told us.