Anger in the Workplace Part I

Costs of Anger and Identifying Anger at Work

Anger is one of the 4 basic emotions. These primitive responses manifest in men and women as a response to stressful stimuli. Any or all of these, 4 basic emotions can be observed as a response to stress, though each individual develops some dominant habits as response to life’s stimuli. The four emotional responses are Fear, Anger, Sadness (depression), or Joy. These four possible responses are generated from primitive parts of the brain that respond to the Flight/Fight survival response. Some people respond to change or other stress by becoming fearful and apprehensive about lack of control or the unknown. Other people withdraw into sadness or depression as a response to stress. There are some people who manifest their nervousness by laughing or giggling or possibly making inappropriate jokes as a response to a difficult or dangerous situation. This article focuses on anger.

Both men and women get angry. However, men are more likely to “act out” in an overt way in response to stress. In statistics supplied by the Justice Department regarding anger and violence in the workplace, 85% of violence in the workplace was perpetrated by men. Statistics also reflect that 1 of 4 employees are angry at work. Much quoted statistics from the Safe Workplace Institute states that in 1993 work place violence cost $4.2 Billion and that 111,000 incidents were reported. Anger can manifest in other forms that do appear to be acts of violence. Anger can manifest as absenteeism, turnover, low morale, poor communication, reduced productivity, poor customer service, sabotage, theft, aggressiveness, sexual harassment, and intimidation (“bullying”). This can be dangerous and expensive! Accidents, injuries, and legal problems can be tied to anger in the workplace.

Workplace anger is often buried by employees until they reach a point where they suddenly burst. This “bursting” point may manifest itself in a variety of ways. One employee may just yell at his manager, while another may impetuously decide to quit. Still others may resort to workplace violence or vandalism. Small business owners and managers should acquaint themselves with the warning signs of hidden anger so that they can address the causes for that anger and, hopefully, head off an incident before it occurs. Employees may exhibit behavior that is more obviously troubling.

Following are a range of behaviors that may signal a need for intervention:
• Overreaction to company policies or performance appraisals
• Prone to making direct or veiled threats
• Sarcastic, irritable, or moody behavior
• Apathetic and/or inconsistent work performance
• Aggressive and antisocial behavior
• Touchy relationships with other workers
• Obsessive involvement and/or emotional attachment to job

Counterproductive and expensive behaviors at work can be observed, and, should be dealt with as soon as possible. These may include:
1. Coming to work late without permission
2. Taking longer breaks
3. Complaining about insignificant things
4. Ignoring someone at work
5. Daydreaming rather than working
6. Trying to look busy
7. Being rude or nasty to client or co-worker
8. Leaving work early
9. Insulting fellow employees about job performance
10. Refusing to help out at work
11. Blaming colleagues for errors that they made
12. Verbally abusing a co-worker
13. Making fun of people at work
14. Avoiding returning telephone calls that are important
15. Telling people outside of work what a lousy place they work at
16. Failing to report a problem and allowing it to get worse
17. Withholding needed information
18. Intentionally coming late to meetings or appointments
19. Working slowly when things need to be done faster
20. Staying home and claiming to be sick
21. Purposely failing to follow instructions
22. Refusing work
23. Damaging equipment
24. Stealing
25. Using obscene gesture
26. Hitting or pushing someone at work
27. Threatening someone
28. Intentionally doing work wrong
29. Wasting materials or supplies
30. Starting malicious rumors

Factors that cause workplace anger can sometimes be addressed directly. While workplace anger sometimes can be traced back to prejudices that are at the root of deep-seated hostility, on many other occasions, work-oriented factors serve as the primary catalysts.

Common causes of workplace anger include:
• Favoritism of one employee over another.
• General harassment, whether sexual or some other form
• Rejection (whether arbitrary or for good reason) of a proposal or project in which employee has big emotional investment.
• Insensitivity by owners or managers.
• Criticisms of employees in front of staff or clients.
• Depersonalized workplace environment.
• Unfair (or tardy) performance appraisals or criticism.
• Lack of resources for the employee to meet his/her objectives.
• Inadequate training.
• Lack of teamwork.
• Withdrawal of earned benefits.
• Betrayal of trust extended to manager or owner.
• Unreasonable demands on employees.
• Does not keep promises.
• Lack of flexibility on part of owner or manager.
• Poor communication.
• Feedback is wholly or primarily negative in tone.
• Absentee leadership (such as instances wherein needed disciplinary action is absent).
• Micromanagerial environment in which staff decision making opportunities are limited.

Do not allow your organization to become a victim of workplace violence. The following article (part II) will help to create positive solutions to prevent or mitigate workplace anger and violence. Each organization is unique and this can create a situation where outside coaching for executives and managers can be the most successful way to solve challenges. Training for your employees can be tailored to be most effective for your unique situations.

L. John Mason, Ph.D. is the author of the best selling “Guide to Stress Reduction.” Since 1977, he has offered Success & Executive Coaching and Training.

Please visit the Stress Education Center’s website at Stress, Stress Management, Coaching, and Training for articles, free ezine (newsletter) signup, and learn about the new telecourses that are available. If you would like information or a targeted proposal for training or coaching, please contact us at (360) 593-3833.