You’ve got mail: the effect of incivil email on recipients’ psychological wellbeing and workplace behaviours

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University of New Brunswick


The present research is an investigation of the effects of incivil email on levels of psychological distress and counterproductive workplace behaviours within a workplace setting. Based on Andersson and Pearson’s (1999) definition of general incivility, incivil email is defined as an email which implies rudeness, disrespect, and disregard for the recipient in a manner that is contrary to socially acceptable norms for communication. An incivil email also lacks any clear aggressiveness, making its interpretation confusing, ambiguous, and questionable from the recipient’s perspective, leaving the recipient questioning the intent of the email (Delano Parker & Spinner, 2010). Currently, research suggests email incivility has similar outcomes as incivil behaviours, such as elevated stress and negative work behaviours. Ambiguity, within incivil email, is also suggested to have similar effects. However, no empirical research utilising an experimental paradigm, within the workplace, has ever been utilised to determine whether the same stress related outcomes occur. The present study addresses this gap. Participants were recruited from members of the Canadian Electricity Association, various engineering firms as well as the City of Fredericton and the City of Saint John N.B. (n = 363). Consistent with previous findings, present results indicated that recipients of incivil email subsequently reported higher levels of psychological distress. Individuals who experienced ambiguity within an incivil email reported greater levels of psychological distress than those not perceiving ambiguity within their email. Support was not found for higher levels of counterproductive work behaviour, as measured by the CWB-C.