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Managing anger at workplace and how to keep your cool

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?

According to 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:

  • Employee was promised a raise, promotion or important project, and it did not happen.
  • Employee was told to do something he felt was wrong or incorrect.
  • 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.

Sometimes 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.

Steps to Control Anger Constructively

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Think about your anger and determine if it really makes sense given the situation.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 go.
  5. 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.

When Anger Strikes

  • Take several deep breaths.
  • Repeat a calming word or phrase in your mind, such as “relax” or “stay calm.”
  • 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 mind.
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