FUQUAY-VARINA, NC. — There is something about email communication that seems to make it easier for people to be impolite or say things they might not say face to face.
This online mistreatment, also known as “cyber incivility,” may appear minor. However, it is actually a meaningful stressor that negatively affects employees emotionally and physically for an extended period of time afterward. The effects were recently documented in research by YoungAh Park (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Charlotte Fritz (Portland State University), and Steve M. Jex (University of Central Florida) according to a news release from the Southern Management Association based on research titled, “Daily Cyber Incivility and Distress: The Moderating Roles of Resources at Work and Home,” which was published in the September 2018 issue of the Journal of Management.
More than a third of respondents (34 percent) reported receiving one to three rude emails per workday. About 2 percent of the participants reported receiving more than five uncivil emails per day on average. Results showed that on days when employees experienced cyber incivility, they reported higher affective and physical distress at the end of the workday which, in turn, was associated with higher distress the next morning. However, on days with greater evening detachment, employees were less likely to experience this distress the next day. The results also indicated a relationship between cyber incivility and distress at work for employees with low job control but not for those with high job control, where those with lower job control experienced more distress from incivil emails.
“Our study shows that not only is email incivility related to high distress on the workday it occurs, but the high distress will still be visible the following workday, especially when employees are not able to detach from work during the evening,” said Dr. Fritz, an associate professor in industrial/organizational (I/O) psychology and a faculty member within the occupational health psychology at Portland State University.
The research also suggests that two resources at work and home — job control and detachment from work — can help relieve the stress.
In the study, a total of 155 full-time employees who used email as one of their primary work-related communications were recruited from a Midwestern university’s alumni as well as a peer nomination procedure. The researchers collected survey data over four consecutive lagged workdays from 96 of the employees. They measured affective distress, which includes various negative emotions, such as being annoyed, anxious, or discouraged, and physical distress, which may include headaches, nausea, or chest pain. They also measured email incivility’s effects on employees the following morning.