What new research reveals about rude email in the workplace

Researchers have found that rude email at work can lead to significant trouble for employees. Researchers say that the “active” rudeness of e-mail is overloaded with strong negative emotions. By comparison, the “passive” rudeness of email leaves people struggling with uncertainty. Passive insolence of email can create problems for employees to sleep, which further puts them in a negative emotional state the next morning, thus creating a vicious circle.

With the advent of the coronavirus pandemic and remote teleworking on the rise, the huge number of email exchanges has skyrocketed. Electronic communication is effective, but it is also remote and separate and can often be rude.

Two studies led by a researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago show that dealing with rude email at work can create long-term stress and diminish your well-being and family life.

Research, published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, suggests that rude email addresses can negatively affect work responsibilities, productivity, and may even be associated with insomnia at night, which further relates to negative emotions the next morning.

“Given the predominant use of email in the workplace, it is reasonable to conclude that this problem is becoming a growing concern,” said lead author Zhenyu Yuan, an assistant professor of management studies at the College of Business Administration.

In the first study, Yuan and his co-authors surveyed 233 employees in the U.S. about their rude email experiences and collected their ratings. In another study, researchers conducted a diary study to examine the overflowing effects of email rudeness on well-being, including employee problems due to falls and sleep.

There are two forms of email rudeness, Yuan notes. Active rudeness of the email – derogatory or derogatory remarks by the sender to the recipient – suggests to the recipient that the sender has mistreated him. By comparison, the passive rudeness of an email — such as ignoring a request or the sender’s opinion — makes it difficult to know if the recipient simply forgot to respond to the email or actually intended to ignore it.

“Because email addresses are securely stored, people may tend to revisit annoying emails or constantly check the response they have requested, which can only exacerbate the trouble due to the rudeness of the email,” Yuan explained.

To alleviate that stress, researchers are urging employees to “psychologically separate” from a stressful work day after receiving rude emails. The best option is to opt out of work outside of business hours. Whenever possible, managers should also set clear and reasonable expectations regarding email communication.

“It should be borne in mind that efforts to address email rudeness should not be interpreted the same as creating pressure on employees and managers to always check their email and respond to email (i.e. to pressure),” Yuan concluded .

“In contrast, setting clear and reasonable communication norms can prove effective in addressing both.”


Co-authors of the study are YoungAh Park, School of Labor and Labor Relations, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and Michael Sliter, OE Strategies, Inc., Broadview Heights, Ohio.

The study was partially supported by training support for a research project from the Heartland Center for Occupational Health and Safety at the University of Iowa (2015-2016). Heartland Center is supported by training grant no. T42OH008491 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention / National Institute for Occupational Safety.

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