In 1986, Patrick Sherrill killed 14 of his fellow postal workers in Edmond, Oklahoma, before turning the gun on himself. The phrase ‘going postal’ was born, used to describe someone’s violent outburst stemming from anger in the workplace. In the decades following this bloody event, workplace anger has killed dozens of workers and endangered thousands of others. This relatively new human relations phenomenon reduces workplace productivity and takes its toll on everyone within the organization.

There are a lot of good reasons to get angry at work. You have a lot at stake there. You may have attended an expensive school to earn a degree. Your family depends on the money you earn for housing, food and other necessities. You have made significant investments in your profession and feel a sense of pride associated with your accomplishments. Losing your job, or your credibility within that position, would cause you a great deal of personal harm. Anger is a normal expression of pain or fear of pain – it would be perfectly normal for you to be hostile if you thought someone prevented you from feeding your family or from pursuing your dream career.

Unfortunately, many cases of anger in the workplace are not a result of an actual threat or real pain directly attributed to a singular and specific cause. Employees and managers bring their own personal experiences and emotional shortcomings into the workplace. Anger expressed in the workplace may result from difficulties at home or from interpersonal relationships with co-workers. A supervisor might be completely unaware that one of her workers has an issue at home that is causing a violent rage to percolate just under the surface.

Violence is the most obvious and most feared way to express anger in the workplace but it is not the only way anger manifests itself in a professional setting. Anger is also the root of workplace bullying, sexual harassment and intimidation. A man who is upset that women were allowed to work in his section of the factory, for example, might express his anger by hanging lewd pornographic images on the bulletin board. A woman who resents being passed over for a promotion might sabotage her new supervisor by filing baseless complaints against him. A manager might express his frustration over a cut in his pay by bullying his weakest employee by assigning her work he knows she cannot accomplish alone.

Anger in the workplace can take down a successful business more quickly than a bank failure or product recall because it disintegrates the very foundation of any organization- the relationships between people. A company or university can spend a great deal of money and time addressing anger within its ranks, trying to diffuse hostilities that may someday spark into violence, instead of focusing on fulfilling its mission statement of producing a quality product or service. In the worst case scenario, anger in the workplace erupts into violence, earning a spot on the evening news.

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