This is what happens to your brain when you read a rude work email

Email correspondence leaves a lot to be desired.

For one thing, it’s nearly impossible to establish tone (especially in a professional context). Even if we take the time to analyze every email for ten minutes before sending, someone will eventually misinterpret our disposition. Just like we ourselves will eventually misinterpret a sender’s disposition.

Of course, there are those who weaponized this digital gray zone to inflict toxic workplace behaviors.

Most offices in the US have committed to indefinite telework operations. Less facetime means more confrontation. While enduring passive-aggressive emails may not seem like something addressing, a new metanalysis from research methodologist, Zhenyu Yuan of the University of Illinois at Chicago, posits that the psychological effects of rude emails can actually fester and take a toll on our well being.

“For a civilized society, we’re not always so civil. In fact, rudeness is a pervasive problem. In a 2002 report on a study conducted with a large representative sample of 2,013 adults, 88% of the general public indicated they had come across rude and disrespectful people on a daily basis. And the workplace is no escape,” wrote Zhenyu Yuan of the University of Illinois at Chicago. As the sheer volume of electronic communications has skyrocketed, the problem of “nasty e-mail” is becoming nonnegligible. “

A review of different studies conducted over the last decade revealed that lingering stress caused by aggressive work emails hurt staff productivity and performance.

A report published in late 2019 determined that 94% of the 3,000 employees surveyed said that they are regularly the victim of bullying at their place of work.

This indicates a 20% increase since 2008.

Fifty-one percent of the study pool said that they were subjected to verbal mistreatment at the hands of their boss or manager.  The remainder of the study pool occasioned various other forms of office harassment from an array of sources.

Some occasioned receiving aggressive emails without provocation (23.3%), while others were habitually the subject of workplace gossip (20.2%).

Participants involved in a simulated work experiment who received barbed emails from their higher-ups experienced more negative emotions and said that they found it harder to stay engaged in work tasks. These also performed worse on tasks administered in the study compared to the control group.

“The stress associated with e-mail rudeness can creep into family life as well. A diary study that surveyed employees twice a day over five workdays found that when employees received impolite messages during a workday, they were likely to report more stress symptoms both in the evening and the following morning,” Yuan continued. “In fact, more than 90 percent of professionals surveyed in a 2009 study said that they had experienced disrespectful e-mail exchanges at work.”

Isolation induced by lockdown measures compounds psychological stress associated with email bullying. They also make harassment hard to define.

If you frequently any of the following, consider consulting your HR department:

  • Are the subject of malicious rumors, gossip
  • Regularly excluded from company experiences
  • Are the victim of intimidation tactics
  • Are frequently undermined
  • Are the subject of physical abuse or threats
  • Relieved areas of responsibilities without cause
  • Constantly changing work guidelines
  • Are faced impossible deadlines that can only set you up to fail

“For employees, one effective way to cope is through psychological detachment. The best option is to unplug from work after-hours. Enjoy your family dinner or time with friends instead of perseverating over a work e-mail during your time off. For those working from home, this mental separation becomes even more important,” Yuan concludes