Mad that you were passed over for a big promotion again? Livid
that the bootlickers always seem to get ahead in your organization? Perhaps it's
time to consider whether the anger itself, however legitimate, is holding you
back. Evidence suggests many of us are walking around the office feeling
resentful, though we may be unaware of the cumulative toll bitter actions take
on our careers and coworkers.
According to a report by Donald Gibson of
Fairfield University and Sigal Barsade of Yale University, one out of four
employees is substantially angry at work. The study, "The Experience of Anger at
Work: Lessons from the Chronically Angry," indicates most workers are not so
angry that they're ready to cause the boss physical harm, but they are angry
enough to sabotage him.
Workplace anger is not only potentially harmful
to the organization, but it can also cause serious health problems, including
chronic anxiety, depression, high blood pressure and heart disease. Learning to
deal with your anger constructively will improve your well-being and make you a
more desirable and promotable employee.
Why Are So Many Employees Angry?
Gibson's survey, workplace anger is most often directed at an employee's
supervisor or the organization in general. "Feelings of anger at the individual
level are a signal that a wrong has been committed or that goals are being
blocked," Gibson says.
I spoke with twelve employees from a variety of
businesses about their anger at work. Each felt that one or more of the
following caused the anger:
the anger may stem from outside sources. Many times, employees are dealing with
stressful events in their own lives, and the resulting anger can carry over to
the workplace. Divorce, a death in the family, financial pressure, and serious
illnesses can all cause an individual to become overwhelmed and irritated.
Rarely are we taught to deal with loss and stressful situations, so we tend to
bury those feelings, which can turn to anger or rage over time.
- Employee was promised a raise, promotion or important project, and it did
- Employee was told to do something he felt was wrong or incorrect.
- Employee could not live up to a supervisor's expectations, because the
expectations were too high or continuously changing.
- Supervisor was a micromanager and criticized employee frequently.
- Employee felt better qualified and skilled than his supervisor.
- Another employee doing the same job made more money.
Steps to Control Anger
We all become irritated or angry every now and
then. What can we do to control that anger and be more constructive? Gibson, who
cowrote "Managing Anger in the Workplace" as a follow-up to the survey, offers
the following strategies for controlling anger:
When Anger Strikes:
- Avoid anger as much as possible. This doesn't mean suppress your feelings,
but rather improve your outlook on yourself and life so there are fewer
situations in which you would become angry.
- Think about your anger and determine if it really makes sense given the
- Control your physical response to anger by doing constructive things, such
as exercising, getting enough sleep and avoiding alcohol. The healthier you are,
the more likely you are to respond appropriately to situations.
- Let go of unmanageable anger. Many situations will be out of your control,
so it is important to let go of this type of anger. Ask yourself, "Can I resolve
whatever it is that's causing this anger?" If you can't, then you need to let it
- If you feel anger and are having a difficult time dealing with it, see if
your company has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). EAP providers typically
allow employees to see therapists in these circumstances. You don't have to live
in a state of bitterness, anger or rage. If you deal effectively with your
anger, you will increase your chances of being promoted at some point -- and of
being an effective leader when the time comes.
- Take several deep breaths.
- Repeat a calming word or phrase in your mind, such as "relax" or "stay
- Slowly count to ten.
- Ask yourself, "How would my favorite leader handle this situation?"
- Avoid tensing up your muscles. As soon as you can, close your eyes and
consciously think to unclench your jaw and loosen your muscles.
- Listen to your favorite music.
- When you're feeling angry after you leave work, change clothes as soon as
you get home. This simple gesture will help you change your state of