Work Email Stressing You Out? Chances Are Your Partner Is Feeling It Too

Jul 26, 2018

Stressing out over a seemingly negative or condescending work email can cause ripple effects that extend to relationships in the home, according to new research from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


Labor and employment relations professor YoungAh Park led the study.

In previous research, Park found the more presumably negative, rude or uncivil emails people receive, the more stressed out they are by day’s end.

In the new study, she finds work-related stress pertaining to email communication has persistent negative effects for both employees and their spouses or partners that carry over into the following work week.

The researchers defined “email incivility” as any email communication perceived as rude or disrespectful, and this includes behaviors such as canceling a meeting last-minute, or just not responding.

Park said part of the problem is it’s easy to read a negative tone into a message when it might not have been intended. That ambiguity can be really distressing.

“When we think about face-to-face interaction, you have a ton of social cues, like your body language or facial expression or the tone of the voice,” Park said. “But in email, you don’t have those social cues.”

Park surveyed 167 dual-earner couples, where both partners work. She found the more people ruminate on what an email message might mean, the more they take that stress home on weekends.

That, in turn, affects their spouse or partner. Both partners then end up disengaging at work the following week. The phenomenon known as “work withdrawal” includes behaviors such as taking unnecessary work breaks without permission, leaving work early and spending time daydreaming.

“This is a stress reaction,” Park said. “When people are under high stress, they try to avoid being exposed to workplace stressors” in an act of self-preservation.

To address this problem, Park said managers need to set standards for healthy email etiquette. She also recommends that anytime there is a negative or critical message to share, it’s best to do so face-to-face.

Park said other research studies find people can avoid some of the negative effects of work-related stress by being intentional about unplugging and engaging in leisure activities on the weekends.

Find a link to the full study at the Journal of Organizational Behavior website.

Follow Christine on Twitter: @CTHerman

Story source: WILL