1 in 5 office workers say they have been reprimanded, demoted, or even fired over misinterpreted messages

July 13, 2022, 3:48 PM UTC
Thianchai Sitthikongsak—Getty Images

The post-COVID world has thrown numerous spanners into the way we work, and digital communication seems to be one of the most affected.

One in five office workers has faced disciplinary action—or even been fired—over a misinterpreted message sent at work, researchers have found.                

In a survey of more than 3,000 full-time office workers, workplace communications platform Loom found that digital correspondence was causing employees “a lot of stress.”

More than 90% of those surveyed said they had had digital messages misunderstood or misinterpreted at work, with almost half saying they overthink emails and messages they send in a professional setting.

One in five workers said miscommunication or misinterpreted messages had led to them being “reprimanded, demoted, or even fired,” according to Loom.

Around 60% of respondents told the company that misunderstandings like these in the workplace were affecting their mental health.

“I am constantly worried I am going to type or say the wrong things,” one survey participant said. “It puts a lot of stress on me daily.”

Another added: “I do find myself thinking and rethinking what the intent of the sender was. It can cause me to worry.”

This overanalyzing was leading to a phenomenon dubbed “Slack-splaining,” Loom said, where workers spend more time than necessary conducting and trying to comprehend digital messages to ensure they are not misunderstood.

Loom estimated that U.S. businesses lose at least $128 billion a year due to employees “wasting time” in their attempts to communicate effectively, with employees spending an average 19 minutes each day rereading or overthinking emails and instant messages.

Digital communications have long been linked to workplace stress and misunderstandings.

A 2008 research paper from Syracuse University argued that email recipients often misinterpret work emails as more emotionally negative than intended, with conflict likelier to escalate when communicated via email.

Meanwhile, researchers at New Zealand’s Massey University found in a 2020 study that workers receiving digital communications had “an inclination to ‘read in’ more negativity than is apparent in the objective features of the message.”

In 2017, researchers from the University of California, Irvine, found that the longer workers spent on emails, the higher their stress levels were.

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