Rude Emails Linked to Lack of Sleep in WT-Led Research

Chip Chandler Aug 02, 2021
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Rude Emails Linked to Lack of Sleep in WT-Led Research

Copy by Chip Chandler, 806-651-2124,


CANYON, Texas — Workers may be more likely to fire off a fiery email if they didn’t get a good night’s sleep, according to research led in part by a West Texas A&M University professor.

Dr. Trevor Watkins, assistant professor of management and Foust Professor of Business, conducted a two-week study in 2015 of 131 adult workers with his colleagues Dr. Satish Krishnan of the Indian Institute of Management Kozhikode in Kerala, India, and Dr. Christopher Barnes of the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington in Seattle.

The study — which was published in June in Sleep Health — measures “cyber incivility,” or electronic violations that violate workplace norms of mutual respect.

“This behavior ranges from making hurtful comments to ignoring meeting requests,” Watkins said.

Participants also were enrolled in a two-year executive post-graduate program at the Indian Institute of Management Kozhikode. Each completed a baseline survey that measured their agreeableness and reported their demographic data.

At 7 a.m. each workday, the research team sent participants a morning survey, which included a measure of how much the participants slept. An end-of-day survey was sent at 4 p.m. each workday, measuring fatigue, incivility and other variables.

Participants completed a total of 945 morning surveys and 843 afternoon surveys.

“The results showed what we anticipated — that when workers did not get a good night’s sleep, they were more likely to experience self-regulatory fatigue and engage in cyber incivility,” Watkins said. “We also found that this effect varies across people — those who are disagreeable in their temperament are more susceptible to poor sleep triggering cyber incivility.”

Current research on cyber incivility focuses on causes within the workplace, Watkins said.

“This research is useful, but we believe that incivility isn’t caused solely by what happens in the office. Employees can resist being uncivil with one another by exerting self-control, and they are more likely to accomplish that when they are fully rested. The implication is that our work and non-work lives are more connected than we sometimes think,” he said.

In their paper, Watkins points out that although individuals typically have control over how much they sleep, this is not always the case. Jobs with variable work schedules, graveyard shifts, or extreme work hours can interfere with employee sleep habits. Managers in these situations should accordingly ask themselves if employees are fully to blame when they engage in cyber incivility, or whether it is organizational policies that are indirectly contributing to such counterproductive behavior.

Identifying the extent to which cyber incivility was attributable to individual versus organizational factors was outside the scope of their current analysis, but Watkins encouraged future research to pursue this idea.

Such impactful projects are key to WT’s quest to become a Regional Research University, as laid out in the University’s long-term plan, WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World.


About West Texas A&M University

WT is located in Canyon, Texas, on a 342-acre residential campus. Established in 1910, the University has been part of The Texas A&M University System since 1990. With enrollment of more than 10,000, WT offers 60 undergraduate degree programs, 40 master’s degrees and two doctoral degrees. The University is also home to the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, the largest history museum in the state and the home of one of the Southwest’s finest art collections. The Buffaloes are a member of the NCAA Division II Lone Star Conference and offers 14 men’s and women’s athletics programs.