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Anger in the workplace – key management strategies

Joe, a 15 year city employee with a good record began missing work, and showing irritability with supervisors and customers alike. He then started to shout at customers who frustrated him.

As complaints mounted, his supervisors “wrote him up” but did not try to discover the reasons for his drastic change of behavior. Finally, when mildly teased by a co-worker, Joe attacked and hit him. At this point, he was suspended and ordered to anger management classes.

Dealing with angry employees is not only challenging for managers, but extremely expensive in terms of wasted employee time, increased turnover rates, mistakes, and high levels of personal stress and illness. By contrast, proper handling can promote personal growth in the employee, reduce employee stress, and promote increased workplace harmony.

How prevalent is the problem of workplace anger?

In 1993 the national Safe Workplace Institute released a study showing that workplace violence costs $4.2 billion each year, estimating over 111,000 violent incidents.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 500,000 victims of violent crime in the workplace lose an estimated 1.8.million workdays each year.
This presents an astounding $55 million in lost wages for employees, not including days covered by sick and annual leave and a loss of productivity that has direct consequences for an employer’s bottom line.

Joe’s assault on his co-worker did not occur all at once. Anger storm clouds had been forming for quite some time. What signs should a supervisor or manager look for and how should it be dealt with? According to Workplace Violence, there are four levels of anger expression which need to be dealt with at the lowest level, to prevent escalation:

Four levels of workplace anger

  • Level 1 – Employee upset. Sensitive to criticism, and irritable. Displays “passive-aggressive” behaviors such as procrastination of work, expressing sarcasm, being late to meetings.
  • Level 2 – Behavioral symptoms escalate. Angry remarks are expressed. Employee is openly critical of others and the company. More emotional, less rational. Absenteeism and tardiness is common.
  • Level 3 – Escalating physical, emotional and psychological arousal. Raising voice, throwing things about, slam door, threats.
  • Level 4 – Assaultive behavior and or destruction of property.

Anger management training for supervisors and managers can help them as individuals and give them better skills to manage difficult employees, before the situation rises to a Level 4 crisis.

Key management strategies:

Strategy 1– Know your resources
Company resources include EAP (employee referral program), and HR (human resources). Community resources include psychologists, substance abuse programs, and anger management programs.

Strategy 2 – Assertive Communication
This means that you express your thoughts, feelings and opinions directly in an honest, open, straightforward and sincere manner. It also involves learning to actively listen to employees and being aware of non-verbal communication that goes beyond his or her words.

Strategy 3 – Set Limits
When you set limits with others in the workplace both parties know what they can expect from each other. When you clarify individual expectations, you avoid misunderstandings that can occur and thus avoid potential conflicts. For example, instead of asking support staff, “will you get this report to me as soon as possible?”, verbalize a specific time you need it.

Strategy 4 – Establish Consequences
In the real-world workplace, you may encounter conflicts with employees who are uncooperative or are unwilling to comply with the rules or policies of your company. As a manger, you may have to take an action that states to the employee the likely outcome of continuing problematic behavior.

Be sure to deliver consequences so they don’t sound like “threats,” but still get the message across.

Anger At Work Linked To Stress

Some people say they know just what to do when their jobs becoming too stressful, but others feel stuck and frustrated. There are tears and confrontations which can lead to poor productivity, abuse of sick days, stealing supplies, and irritability or depression.

Sometimes the stress and anger are due to home problems which the employee brings with them to work. In other cases, it is the work setting itself which is causing the problem. Too much workload, perceived lack of recognition or appreciation by management, and conflict with co-workers or supervisors are often involved.

For more information on tools to deal with workplace stress and anger (sometimes called “desk rage”), click here.