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Email rudeness just got worse in workplaces

Studies show that almost 98 per cent of people say they have experienced uncivil behaviour in the workplace, a phenomenon that has gotten worse during Covid-19.

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With the caps lock key and the stroke of an exclamation point, your co-worker has just done the equivalent of shouting at you across the office,” University of Illinois academics Zhenyu Yuan and YoungAh Park, write in Scientific American.

Their research, published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, says it’s time to start taking “email incivility” seriously. Not all rudeness is deliberate, but it can still grind you down – even affecting your sleep.

While good communication is always a challenge, the shift to homeworking and the over-reliance on written communication can make misunderstandings more likely. With emails and digital communications increasingly vital, organizations which can balance these demands with protecting employees’ work-life balance are more likely to thrive in the next normal.


Also read: The pandemic workday is 48 minutes longer and has more meetings


What’s the problem?

Email rudeness comes in two flavours, the researchers say – ‘active’ and ‘passive’. Active email rudeness is perhaps the easiest to define. It could be an angry email from a disgruntled client where the recipient (often not the person who has caused the perceived problem) gets both barrels – sometimes in CAPS LOCK.

Passive rudeness is harder to define. It could be not replying to an email for days on end, or not acknowledging a part of an email. Which then leaves the other person wondering – is that person really ignoring me, or just really busy?

Whether or not it’s deliberate, email rudeness can still hurt. According to the two studies that informed the paper, active incivility is more likely to heighten emotions, particularly while at work. But passive emails can cause damage, too.

This latter type of incivility is “positively associated with insomnia, which then leads to heightened negative affect at the beginning of the workday,” the researchers say. It may not be coincidental that there has been a reported rise in disturbed sleep in recent months.


Also read: Why shrinking offices and hot-desking are bad ideas, Covid or no Covid


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