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Passive Aggressive Threats Hurt Productivity

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Companies use email to communicate on just about every imaginable topic, from party announcements to corporate decisions. But it’s still surprising to see an email that contains an underlying use of threatening language.

Here are a few lines from a message that was anonymously forwarded to AccelaWork:

Please look at the attached list and make sure you know what day and time you are scheduled for the [REDACTED] Training. This training will be two hours so please plan the rest of your day accordingly.

Please remember, this is a MANDATORY training.  As was stated in a previous email re: [REDACTED] Training, “staff members are going to be held accountable for not attending meetings, or arriving late.  This will include corrective action plans, written reprimands and if not corrected could result in termination.”

unhappy consultant

© Flickr user US Department of Education

When reading this email, one thing is clear: its phrasing is definitely a threatening and caustic choice of words. Though both paragraphs start with the word “please,” the expectations of gentility and politeness turn sour in the brutal, underlying tone. In fact, much of the language is the textbook definition of passive-aggressive. For example, the remark: “this training will be two hours so please plan the rest of your day accordingly,” clearly implies that the author assumes those who receive the email are unable to manage their own time without explicit reminders.

Furthermore, the use of all capital letters (which is typically not considered effective for email productivity) in a way belittles employees as it projects a sense of reprimand and shouting. Additionally, the author has told the employees (twice) that if they do not meet expectations, they will be punished. When proving a point, quoting yourself can be helpful; however, in this instance, restating an open threat merely relays doubt in both employee listening and understanding. All that can serve to do is discourage employees who were already doing a quality job at these things.

There may be some issues that were in place prior to cause the sender of this message to take on such a tone, but that’s still no excuse for treating employees in this manner. If you continue to treat people like they’re incompetent, they may just start to believe it. Regardless, there are ways to address problems in the workplace, and it’s almost never through a threatening email. There should be a level of trust in place where a simple message informing employees of a training session is enough. The fact that the session is mandatory shouldn’t have to be repeated. If the training is worthwhile, then employees should want to attend. The fact that work is still required in the other hours of the day shouldn’t be a big deal. Employees should be trusted to find ways to align their day on their own. If that level of trust is in place, employees will not only be happier, but work will be better for everyone.

The way in which you talk to employees not only influences their satisfaction at work, but also impacts their overall productivity. Words matter. Check our follow-up post where we rewrite the above note using positive, empowering language. If you’re reading the email above and thinking it sounds like a standard message and that there isn’t really a problem, well then you may need to re-evaluate the way you communicate throughout your organization.

If you want more information on how to properly communicate throughout your organization, contact the business consulting team at AccelaWork today! We can help you avoid issues like the email above and find ways for everyone involved in your business to thrive.

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