Anger Management

by Roisin Murray and Wallace Murray


Whatever its causes, the effects of angry outbursts in the workplace are likely to be expensive and draining.

How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it.

Marcus Aurelius

Organisational outputs

At its simplest, two people having a row are not working. Their time costs money and they produce nothing of value. Their supervisor or manager may have to spend time calming them down. In some cases, the HR department (if you have one) will become involved. Depending on the outcome, the organisation may have to fund disciplinary action and possibly defend itself against wrongful dismissal claims.

However, there are often more subtle implications. Suppressed anger may underlie bullying and harassment, stock ‘shrinkage’, absenteeism and high staff turnover, low morale, passive non-cooperation, careless accidents and injuries, and poor customer service.

Angry people also tend to be over-optimistic and make risky decisions that, depending on their position, may adversely affect organisational outcomes. It may be hard to place a figure on all of these, but it can’t be insignificant.

Working relationships

Never get angry. Never make a threat. Reason with people.

Mario Puzo (1920-1999), The Godfather

Angry people are likely to be seen as abrasive, dismissive, hectoring, bullying, demeaning, uncooperative and possibly disruptive. They’re simply hard to work with or for, and can suck the energy out of people around them. People who undermine others’ work or characteristics are often angry. They tend to think ill of others and be more prejudiced and unwilling to see good intent or attributes in other people. They are more likely to point the finger of blame at others rather than at circumstances. So prolonged anger may make you enemies at work, lose you the benefits of cooperation, build up resentment against you, and increase the risk of harassment or bullying allegations.

Marginally unacceptable behaviour can often gradually lead to build-ups of pressure resulting time wasted by people arguing instead of working, poorer results through conscious or unconscious sabotage or non-compliance with procedures, increased absenteeism, higher staff turnover, working to rule, bullying, violence at work and more industrial tribunals.

If this is happening, it’s your plain duty as a manager to nip it in the bud. If you catch it in time, simple Coaching or Performance Management methods may be all that’s needed. If things are more serious, there may be Health and Safety issues and you may need to consider Discipline and Grievance or even Dismissal procedures. Before going down that route though, be aware of the content of the topic in Disability in case the person says their behaviour is due to health issues.

Effects on the individual

The effects of their anger on the angry person can be either positive or negative, or even a mixture of both.

Usually when people are sad, they don't do anything. They just cry over their condition. But when they get angry, they bring about a change.

Malcolm X (1925 – 1965), Malcolm X Speaks, 1965

Positive effects

Anger can be motivational. It can fuel superhuman effort: ultra-go-getting classic alpha type-A behaviour, causing the person to work hard for long hours, with a laser-like focus on a particular outcome.

If you’re angry about something, you may be more highly motivated to achieve your desired outcome. You may more easily discard irrelevant information when making decisions.

Some people use anger deliberately as a strategy for success in negotiations or in their career. It’s a fine line to walk, however. Those facing an irate negotiator tend to think of them as stubborn, dominant, powerful and/or of high standing. It seems that people are more inclined to give in to an angry person (perhaps because they fear the consequences if they don’t). So showing anger during a negotiation may increase the likelihood of achieving your objective, in the short term. Superficially, you may appear effective.

Negative effects at work

In the longer run, getting angry may be a high-risk, high-cost strategy. As part of the flight-or-flight response, anger inclines you to fight rather than take flight. To choose that option, you have to think you’ll win. So anger makes you more likely to take unwarranted risks and make over-optimistic risk assessments. You may be more inclined to

  • Leap to conclusions
  • Take excessive risks.

That may lead to you falling flat on your face. Apart from damaging your reputation and career, you run a higher risk of adversely affecting organisational outcomes.

Prolonged anger may adversely affect your personal effectiveness. Although some studies found that a modicum of anger may sharpen-up decision-making, most research suggests that you may be more likely to

  • Lose concentration on the task in hand
  • Communicate ineffectively
  • Prioritise poorly;
  • Analyse badly
  • Make ineffectual or tardy decisions.

Health and wellbeing

If you kick a stone in anger, you'll hurt your own foot.

Korean proverb

Anger may fuel go-getting behaviour, but chronically angry individuals

  • Tend to die younger
  • Are six times more likely than others to die of a heart attack
  • Are more prone to serious illnesses, such as cancer, heart disease and strokes, as well as common ailments, such as colds and flu, and substance misuse.

The consensus seems to be that a little bit of anger is good for you, but a lot is not. Basically, if you’re angry a lot, you’re more likely to ruin your career and die young!