When Your Work Is All The Rage–Literally

Get familiar with the many forms of inappropriate workplace anger

As if office politics weren’t enough, every day Karu F. Daniels faced maneuvering in and out of the many layers he was reporting to at work for a syndicated radio program. But he had an even more formidable task: staying out of the line of fire of one of his supervisors.

“Most of the workers were scared to communicate with her because she could blow up at any moment,” exclaims Daniels, now founder of 530 Media, a media consultancy firm based in New York. “A phone call or an e-mail could set her off. She yelled and slammed things all the time.”

Daniels’ boss is just one of thousands suffering from what experts call “desk rage.” A national survey of more than 1,300 workers conducted by Opinion Research Corp. International and commissioned by Integra Realty Resource, found that 42% of respondents experienced yelling and verbal abuse at work, 29% admitted to yelling at co-workers, 14% said machinery and/or equipment had been damaged by angry workers, and one in 10 said physical violence occurred in their workplace.

According to Lynne McClure, Ph.D., president of the anger management coaching firm McClure Associates Inc. (www.mcclureassociates.com), based in the Phoenix area, and author of Anger and Conflict in the Workplace: Spot the Signs, Avoid the Trauma (Impact Publications, $15.95), desk rage is defined as “inappropriate displays of anger in the workplace.” Such displays consist of:

  • Acted-out anger: yelling, swearing, throwing things, slamming doors, etc.
  • Unconnected anger: angrily blaming others for one’s own mistakes.
  • Self-centered anger: angrily demanding to be treated as an exception to the rules.
  • Undercover anger: getting even with others in secretive, passive-aggressive ways.
  • Rigid anger: angrily trying to take control of things over which one is not authorized.
  • Escapist anger: avoiding accountability by lying.
  • Shocking anger: acting out in ways that are out of character for the person.
  • Strange anger: getting angry about delusional events.

If you feel you’re losing control, McClure suggests using your company’s employee assistance program (or other counseling service). Let your manager and/or human resources know that you’re over-stressed. If possible, arrange a change in schedule and/or workload. Find other ways to relieve the tension immediately, such as a stress management class. Work with your manager and co-workers to find ways to reduce stress at work (such as working in teams, vs. individually, on projects).

Workplace rage shouldn’t be taken lightly, says John D. Byrnes, president of the Center for Aggression Management (www.aggression management.com) in Winter Park, Florida. If not addressed, he says, desk rage can lead to workplace violence. “Unhappy workers cost companies lots of money. Prevention is best,” Byrnes advises.

If you’re a manager, there are several clues to look for in potentially explosive employees. “Are there changes in a worker’s normal behavior? Has his/her body language changed? Are they coming in late? Are there sudden outbursts of anger? Has the quality of their work changed? Has their personal appearance suffered? Are they taking a lot of days off?” asks Byrnes, who believes desk rage is on the rise for several reasons.

“There’s a disenfranchisement felt by many employees.

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