Anger in the workplace is a special challenge to managers. As a manager, you are responsible for identifying and resolving problems that might negatively affect your company. The employees under you trust that you will protect them from the wrath and anger of people much wealthier and more powerful than themselves. In fact, your actions as a supervisor can even incite anger among workers. As a manager, you are stuck between an angry rock and a professional hard place.
Adults are expected to separate our personal feelings from our professional behavior. You know it is not professional to express personal emotions. But reality is quite different—we often feel most passionately about our professions.
A manager must be alert to anger and its potential for violence from within the company and from the outside world. Violence in the workplace falls into four broad categories. The first type of aggression is inflicted by people who are not associated with the company, but enter the premises to commit a robbery or some other offense. This type of crime may or may not be anger-driven, dependent on the motivation of the criminal. According to FBI statistics, this category accounts for nearly 80 percent of workplace homicides.
The other categories are more likely to be the direct result of anger, and an attentive manager should remain vigilant for signs of anger that can lead to these types of violence in the workplace. The second category includes violence directed at employees from customers, students, patients or other consumers of the company’s products or services. Anger can be contained within the company, erupting in conflicts between peers, disputes between workers and management or from a disgruntled former employee. Finally, managers should be vigilant against anger in the workplace imported there by someone with a relationship with an employee, like an angry ex-spouse.
Sometimes the workplace itself is hostile as a direct result of poor management. Managers should be aware of and responsive to the signals of an angry work environment, such as excessive absenteeism or turnover rate, poor or nonexistent communication between peers and administrative levels, a palpable lousy morale such as grumpy workers and outbursts amongst personnel.
Managers have direct control over some issues that make workers angry, such as general or sexual harassment, favoritism, a depersonalized workplace, lack of resources and unfair evaluations. You may be fostering an angry workplace by criticizing employees in front of other staff, giving primarily negative feedback and inconsistent or inappropriate disciplinary actions.
An individual employee may give you obvious warning signs of an impending outburst. Be alert to sarcastic comments, mood swings or an irritable demeanor, direct or veiled threats, overreaction to evaluations or changes in company policy and apathetic or inconsistent work ethic.
Managers of companies large and small should consider a plan to deal with anger in the workplace, as current economic trends ratchet up the stress levels, increasing the underlying and potentially explosive anger of employees at every corporate level. While a great deal of anger is imported from the outside world into the workplace, anger within the workplace is often expressed at peers, subordinates and superiors. It is up to you, as the manager, to keep your company and workers safe from anger in the workplace.