A study has found that rude emails at work can have nasty lingering side-effects. 

The research determined that there are two different forms of rudeness over email.

The first is ‘active’ and includes demeaning or derogatory remarks from the sender.

The second is ‘passive’ – such as ignoring a request or opinion – which can make it hard to know whether the recipient forgot to answer or deliberately ignored it.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Whether passive or active in its rudeness, a person’s lack of manners over email can lead to people feeling uncertain and overloaded with strong negative emotions.

Passive emails especially can leave people in the lurch, with someone regularly wondering what the sender’s intention was, even leading to trouble sleeping.

The study team from the University of Illinois said the volume of email exchanges has rocketed during the Covid-19 pandemic, as more people work remotely.

But they said electronic communication can be distant, detached and often rude.

The research shows receiving a rude email at work can cause an immediate drop in productivity, insomnia and negative emotions the next day.

Photo by Stephen Phillips

‘Given the prevalent use of emails in the workplace, it is reasonable to conclude this problem is becoming an increasing concern,’ said lead author Zhenyu Yuan.

In the study, 233 workers were quizzed about their impolite email experiences.

Participants were also asked to keep a diary to examine the spillover effects of email rudeness on wellbeing, including trouble falling and staying asleep.

Professor Yuan said: ‘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.’

To mitigate this stress, the researchers urge employees to ‘psychologically detach’ from a stressful workday after receiving rude emails.


The best option is to unplug from work after-hours.

Whenever possible, managers also should set clear and reasonable expectations regarding email communications.

Professor Yuan said: ‘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.

‘On the contrary, setting clear and reasonable communications norms can prove effective in addressing both.’