Anger Management

by Roisin Murray and Wallace Murray

How big a problem is it?

(There is) a direct correlation between prevalence of employee conflict and the amount of damage and theft of inventory and equipment. And covert sabotage of work processes and of management's efforts usually occurs when employees are angry at their employer.

Dan Dana, The Dana measure of financial cost of organisational conflict, 2001

Anger in the workplace is widespread, but it’s not always obvious, and may be disguised by other problems, such as stress and bullying. Anger is perfectly natural and healthy. It’s only a problem when inappropriately expressed or held on to.

Physical or verbal violence

Violence at work (or threats thereof) is what many fear when thinking about anger. But it’s rare. The British Crime Survey for 2010-11 estimates that only 1.5 per cent of the working population were affected by violence or threats of it at work that year.

So why worry about it? Well, 1.5 per cent of the working population is 654,000 incidents. That’s way too many, and it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

How widespread is problem anger?

Anger takes many forms, and other surveys show a much wider incidence of problem anger. According to a 2008 Mental Health Institute report, Boiling Point, approximately

One in two of us has reacted to computer problems by hitting or screaming at our PCs (or at our colleagues) and almost as many regularly lose our tempers at work

  • One in three has a close friend or family member with trouble controlling their anger
  • One in four worries about how angry they sometimes feel
  • One in five has ended a relationship because of the other’s behaviour when angry
  • One in five of workers is subjected to violence at work, according to the TUC
  • One in eight admits to having trouble controlling their own anger
  • Eight out of ten drivers claim to have been involved in road rage incidents.

Anger at work is often disguised

Anger may be disguised, so is not recognised or recorded as anger. Instead, it’s suppressed under simmering resentment, and emerges as such things as

  • Bullying or harassment
  • Stress
  • Low morale
  • Absenteeism and high staff turnover
  • Laziness and low productivity
  • Sarcasm or other verbal abuse of colleagues
  • Passing the buck or blaming others for failures
  • Withholding information from others
  • Increased rates of non-conformance ( in a quality management sense)
  • Failing to report/act on a problem
  • Wasting materials or carelessness with equipment (damaging or misusing it)
  • Stealing office stationery (or more)
  • Poor customer service.