We Get Angry When We Get Emails And Texts From The Boss After Work, Study Says | KERA News

We Get Angry When We Get Emails And Texts From The Boss After Work, Study Says

Mar 9, 2015

Just about anyone who’s received a work-related text message or email during off-hours knows how maddening it can be. 

Researchers have measured that anger -- and they've found that even when you want to know what's going on at work, that message can still get you steamed. 

Marcus Butts is an associate professor at UT-Arlington and he shared some highlights from his new study.

Interview Highlights: Marcus Butts ...

... on the nature of the study: "We surveyed people over the span of seven days and we sent them an email after hours and we asked them 'What was the last email that you received from work and tell us a little bit about it, tell us about the characteristics of it' and then [we] also got their reactions to those emails."

... on what the study uncovered: "Some of our main findings were that No. 1, obviously, whenever you get an electronic communication from your boss or from your coworkers, you have some type of affective reaction and that can be positive or negative. So sometimes you may respond with anger or sometimes you may respond with happiness but it really depends upon two main things. No. 1, what was the tone of that communication? Did you interpret it as very negative or very positive? And then, No. 2, how long did it take you to deal with a communication?"

... on how people reacted to the study: “Typically, those that wanted to keep their work and non-work separate, we call them segmenters, they were more likely to get angry whenever they read an email or electronic communication after hours. Those that were integrators, the people that like to mesh the two worlds, they tended to not be affected. It’s not like that they got happy more often, it’s just that they didn’t get angry.”

... on how to minimize the anger: “We offer a few recommendations in our study. We talk about the fact that really the onus is on the sender. Because, as the sender, you need to be aware that people are always going to open up your emails. The research shows that people are not very good at shutting off. You can say I’m not going to check my email, but whenever your phone bings or whenever you see that you’ve got new mail, we kind of have a very Pavlovian-type response where we’re going to open it. So then we can’t put a lot of constraints on the receiver. But senders can be more cognizant of what they send and the language they use. The problem is after about eight or 12 hours on the job, you’re tired and fatigued, so you’re more likely to send a very terse, short email that then the receiver misinterprets or is ambiguous in nature.”

Marcus Butts is lead author of the new study published in the Academy of Management Journal.