Dealing with Anger at Work

Over the last few months I have been asked to deal with situations that have caused by, or resulted in, employees inappropriately expressing anger at work. I have had to deal with the fallout of individuals shouting at colleagues; furious outbursts; swearing at others; sulking; physical threats; temper tantrums including stamping of feet; sullen petulant behaviour and other dramatic expressions of feelings including petty retribution and manipulation. In short, these appear to be adults displaying typically childish playground behaviours, but in the workplace.

I have been quite astonished by the increase in the number of cases that I have come across recently, and whilst not wanting to stereotype the individuals, they do seem predominantly to be in the 20-30 age group. I don’t know why that is, but I wonder if there is something in the way that children and young adults are treated by society – at home and school – in their preparation for work that has meant that they have grown up thinking it is OK to behave in this way, when clearly it is not OK.

Should we have to train new recruits in how to behave with dignity and respect towards others, or are they perhaps modelling their responses on how they see others responding to particular situations? And how do we rectify the that? The fact that we now have to spell out what is acceptable behaviour and what is unacceptable behaviour (see the new EHRC guidance on what constitutes harassment for example) means that “common sense” is clearly no longer “common.”

Learning to listen actively, to pause and reflect before responding and to consider the impact we make on others are very important skills for people to work well together successfully. We don’t have to like our colleagues or socialise with them outside of work, but we are expected to work productively together for the good of the business. Those that display active disdain openly towards their team members could find themselves on the wrong end of a bullying complaint on the grounds of public humiliation, and that could very easily lead to a gross misconduct dismissal.

To quote the Dalai Lama; “Many people think that patience is a sign of weakness. I think this is a mistake. It is anger that is a sign of weakness, whereas patience is a sign of strength.”

If you own or manage a business, you have a responsibility to ensure that the workplace is safe – and that is not just from physical dangers, but you are required to do your best to ensure that your employees are not harmed psychologically either. Allowing someone to be bullied like this by another member of staff could mean that you are liable if you turn a “blind eye”.

So next time you come across an employee who is not behaving appropriately, particularly if they haven’t been with the business long or are still in their probationary period, make sure that you start coaching them on expectations before the habit becomes ingrained and they assume that their behaviour is acceptable. And think about the examples being set by others in the business. If you need help with this get in touch for advice and support.
Posted on 21 Jan 2020
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