Workplace Anger - The Invisible Cost of Doing Business

Workplace Anger - The Invisible Cost of Doing Business

by James A. Baker

anger managementSalaries, health insurance, personnel, equipment, materials, shipping, marketing, capital improvements, operations, technology; you think you have everything pretty well covered, and then you get blind-sided by a 22-year old kid in the call center who has only been on the job six months. He goes on a rampage, chews out three important customers over the phone, screams at a pregnant co-worker in the next cube, shoves his supervisor into a filing cabinet, and storms out of the building, breaking a security camera on the way. You can get Lloyd's of London to insure you against hurricanes and earthquakes, but what are you supposed to do about angry employees?

Anger in the workplace is an extremely expensive - although often invisible - cost of doing business. However, a 1993 research project by the Chicago-based Safe Workplace Institute discovered that anger and violence in the workplace cost businesses $4.2 billion during the previous year and resulted in 1.8 million days of lost productivity. Other, more recent studies, place these figures even higher. No matter how you measure it, the effect of anger in the workplace is often devastating, and very few companies are adequately prepared to deal with it. Some researchers estimate that as much of 42% of employee time is spent on trying to resolve conflict. Most experts agree that at least 25% of the workforce at any given time is dealing with unresolved, chronic anger issues. Employees ages 18-34 are four times more likely to report being angry as those over 50. One anger management specialist describes the situation as an epidemic of "underground chronic anger."

Anger Management Class: Workplace Anger - Many causes - One result

The American workplace at the beginning of the 21st century has taken on the look and feel of a disaster area. The marketplace is in a huge state of flux. In order to compete in the new, worldwide economy, employers have been forced to do more with less; do it faster and do it cheaper. The jobs mantra has become "automate it, computerize it or ship it overseas." Jobs are at stake everyday in workplaces all around the country. The stress to perform and compete has generated unprecedented pressure on workers at all levels. Anger, the by-product of stress and fear, has skyrocketed as a result.
However, this super-stressed atmosphere has really only taken a set of typical dynamics and made them worse. There has always been anger in the workplace. People, working in close quarters for 8-10 hours per day under pressure from competition and deadlines, will find plenty of opportunities to get angry. The main reasons given for anger in the workplace are:

  • Real or imagined criticism or rejection by supervisors or management, especially over matters relating to performance evaluations or promotions or pay raises.
  • Inefficient, apathetic coworkers.
  • Tight deadlines and heavy workloads.
  • Personality conflicts between team members.

Anger Management Class - Workplace Anger - The Invisible Cost of Doing Business

Once an employee begins to harbor frustration or resentment related to these conditions, the effect can and does ripple across a team or an entire office. The angry employee's production slows down because anger is sapping him of motivation and energy. This has an impact on the team around him, and may spin off other "anger whirlpools" as colleagues grow resentful, maybe even apprehensive, in his presence. As anger explodes into open conflict, production shuts down entirely, at least for the moment. Team members get distracted, defensive, anxious and perhaps even start honing their resumes. They definitely waste valuable time talking to each other and about each other, when they should be working, instead.

The Bottom Line is the Bottom Line

Any way you slice it, anger costs the company and its owners or stockholders a ton of money. Angry employees gum up the works; they slow, even halt, production in some cases, which costs the company money. They distract or intimidate other employees, keeping them from performing efficiently. More money lost there. They sometimes offend and drive off customers, causing future profits to take an instant hit. They sometimes offend and drive off other employees, costing valuable time and money to hire and train replacements. And, more and more, angry employees are committing violence at work, injuring and occasionally killing co-workers. Now we are talking major work stoppages, employee trauma, mountains of bad publicity and even lawsuits. Who knows how much money this could add up to? Companies that fail to develop clear, effective policies for managing anger might as well take big piles of money down into the basement and throw it into the furnace. Anger in the workplace can be really expensive.

Anger Management Class - Workplace Anger - The Invisible Cost of Doing Business

Follow the ABCs

In view of all this troubling news, businesses should become proactive; get out in front of this disaster-waiting-to-happen by following the ABCs of managing anger in the workplace:

Activate a Company Anger Policy: Every business should have a clearly defined policy that lists what behaviors are not acceptable, both in customer-facing and internal interactions. The policy should also stipulate the process for how violations will be handled and the consequences/options employees can expect when those violations occur. The company should adopt a zero tolerance policy and make sure supervisors and managers now exactly when and how to respond.

Anger Management Class - Workplace Anger - The Invisible Cost of Doing Business

Build Awareness: After management has finalized the policy and trained the supervisors, the policy should be rolled out to all employees through a series of presentations delivered at team meetings. Begin with a thorough explanation of the policy itself, and allow employees to ask all the questions they can think of. Then post copies of the Anger Awareness policy in common areas, along with all the other EEOC, Sexual Conduct and Diversity memos you must display.

Coach for Compliance: Most people are not very good at expressing anger in healthy ways. Some get angry in ways that are safer than others, but most people need help really understanding how to manage anger, especially on the job. So, a good first step would be to conduct a company-wide Anger Awareness Workshop - at least one 4-hour session - that would provide employees with basic skills to manage anger along with reinforcement in the company anger policy. Also, coaching in how to manage anger issues should be a part of all performance reviews.

A little advance preparation in the art and science of managing workplace anger will go a long way to protecting your employees, your customers and your bottom line. Given the trends we see reflected in all aspects of our society, especially the stress in the economy and on the job, failing to act now is a recipe for a disaster.



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