Rude work emails pack a virtual punch that can hurt more than just the recipients.
Such a blow could affect their work performance, and that of their domestic partners, who they typically take their frustration out on, researchers have found.
Given the far-reaching effects, incivility needs to be addressed.
“Cyber incivility can occur on any online platform,” says YoungAh Park, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who has done extensive research on workplace incivility and stress.
She and co-researchers have focused on email incivility because that’s a dominant workplace communication tool. Examples of incivility include rude messages, not replying to messages at all, and sending time-sensitive messages with inadequate notice, Park said.
Stress from such emails, she said, can lead to the employee's withdrawing from work, and to a partner's also withdrawing from his or her own work, in such ways as daydreaming, putting in less effort, and leaving work for unnecessary reasons. Physically and emotionally there also may be a toll, showing in anxiety, nervousness and fatigue, for example.
So employers should take heed, says Nancy Flynn, executive director of the Ohio-based ePolicy Institute and Business Writing Institute.
She stresses to clients that when writing any form of electronic communication to try to be professional yet conversational and to consider that the basic elements of business writing should apply.
This includes writing in complete sentences and checking spelling, punctuation and grammar, she said.
Often the communication can come across as stilted, Flynn said, even if rudeness is not intended, so it's important to consider your words and tone carefully. Firms can help in this regard by having writing guidelines on such things as what content is permitted and what language is prohibited. .
Above all, firms should “have a policy that encourages civility,” said Shari Claire Lewis, a partner in cyber law at Rivkin Radler LLP in Uniondale. The applicable policies should spell out acceptable conduct and social media/electronic use so employees know to interact with other individuals, be they colleagues or customers, with respect. A prohibition on bullying is also important, Lewis said.
Other concerns that a policy could address include online defamation, privacy and intellectual property issues, she added.
Dan Ritchie, an instructor at Dale Carnegie Training of Long Island in Hauppauge, recommends beginning any electronic communication on a positive note, setting the tone for the entire email.
He also recommends following three basic principles: Know, feel and do. This involves, he explained, saying what you want the recipient to know, considering how the person might feel (i.e. better or worse after reading your message), and what you want the person to do.
Cyber incivility and particularly dealing with rude emails comes up in training so much that Dale Carnegie has a book on the subject: ‘'How To Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age.’'
And remember there is no neutral interaction; we either leave our recipient better off or worse off from an interaction, Ritchie said. And since email is a cold medium, it can often be the latter.
“The non-verbal cues like body language, facial expressions and tone of voice that can be helpful in understanding the context aren’t there in email,” said Park.
Emails can certainly be a stressor considering the average person checks their work email on average 3.1 hours on a typical weekday, according to a survey last year by Adobe.