The Angry Employee: Painful or in pain?

27 Feb 2018

The Angry Employee: Painful or in pain?

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Where there is anger, there is always pain underneath. Eckhart Tolle

“That’s just Merridy. She’s always angry. It’s just who she is”, explained the Assistant Director to a consultant arriving for a short assignment. “She’s very bright, perhaps too intelligent for the job. She is also very prickly. Don’t mind her. Her work is good. Every now and then she, well, she just erupts. We tend to just ignore her when that happens.”

If you are the angry employee, you are most likely oblivious to what your boss and work colleagues say about you when you are out of earshot. You may also have no idea that you come across as angry, or that people are tip toeing around you. Whether you are the simmering broody type who barely keeps a lid on how you feel about what is going on at work, or your occasional outbursts cause everyone to scatter or hide, being angry at work is neither good for your health nor for your career prospects.

Believe it or not, your anger actually costs your organisation in lost productivity and time dealing with conflict. Ninety nine percent of workplace anger is played out by 1% of employees. Your angry mood infects those around you and dents their morale and motivation. Good people don’t leave organisations, they leave people. Sometimes they leave because they can no longer tolerate the emotionally draining effects of angry outbursts from co-workers.

There is no doubt that anger is a powerful emotion. But, uncontrolled and unresolved, it can lead to increased stress and anxiety, heightened blood pressure, headaches and, in the longer term, gastrointestinal, immune and nervous system disorders amongst others.

Angry people can be seen as irrational and “out of control” and, as a result, tend to become disenfranchised from their co-workers, especially those wishing to avoid conflict and its associated trauma. “If you want misery, see Merridy”, they may whisper at the water cooler.

Maybe your anger arises from a perception that no one ever listens to you, or recognises your capacity to genuinely contribute beyond the level at which you are employed. The disregard for your intelligence is such an affront that it causes you to boilover. Perhaps you feel entitled to express your anger when you have been treated unfairly in particular work situations. Perhaps, no one, not even your boss, feels that they have skills to listen to what has ruffled your feathers and is really troubling you.

For everyone’s wellbeing the whole anger thing needs to be addressed. So let’s get down to figuring out what has gotten under your skin, and where and how it impacts on you and others.

Pinpoint the source

Try to pinpoint the ignition point for your anger. When and how did it begin? How long has it endured? What sparks it? What alleviates it? Make a list of all of the things that have provoked you out of your emotional comfort zone in your current job. Dig deep and be honest. Are you aggrieved because you didn’t receive a promotion? Are you overworked and feeling undervalued? Have you suffered a conga line of ill equipped managers or do you feel ill equipped to manage effectively.

Whatever it is, once you are clear about the source of your anger, you can start to do something about it.

Get the facts first

When things don’t go the way you intend, breathe! Don’t get angry. Get the facts. All too often, tempers flare because of what someone thought or decided, is alleged to have said, or is perceived to have done or not done. Try not to jump to conclusions. If you weren’t present in a decision making process, you don’t actually know what was decided. A little fact checking goes a very long way in keeping everyone calm and considered.

Look beyond the obvious

If you can’t come up with any incidents or situations at work that have irked you, look a little closer to home. Are you fuming at work, because you are angry at home? There are many people who inadvertently bring anger from home into the workplace. Whether its genesis is in rocky relationships, illness or financial distress, you may well be experiencing a level of pain that you cannot contain. And you may be in denial that pressure from life infects your mood (and everyone else’s) at work.

Decide what issues you can address

Which of the irksome issues identified are you actually able to do something about? Which are outside your capacity to control? For example, you may not be able to stop a merger of departments but you can courteously ask the person at the next work station to stop singing along with their music if it disturbs you. Put those issues that you are powerless to do anything about aside. Focus your energy instead on what you can do to become a more optimistic, positive, accepting and relaxed you.

For each of the ignition points you have identified, consider their relative importance to your capacity to do your job effectively, the impact on others and your job satisfaction. Are they worthy of your anger? If not, let them go. If they are worth pursuing, consider how each can be addressed constructively. Who has the power and influence to make the changes you need? How can you approach those people in a way that will help you to achieve your desired outcome?

Beware of your impact on others

Think before you react. What is the outcome you are hoping to achieve and how will an outburst help you, or impede your capacity, to achieve that end result?

The way you manage your mood is your responsibility. Appreciate the person who quietly sidles up to you and asks, “Is everything OK?” That person does care about you. But, rest assured that no one should be burdened with routinely cajoling you into becoming a congenial co-worker. Take the time to get in touch with how you feel and to understand how you communicate those feelings to others.

Think about where and how you find peace

Whether you are angry because you are stressed or vice versa, remember, that where you go, your anger goes too. What are you doing to release your pent up frustrations and anger? Exercise and sport are obvious outlets but you can also try yoga and meditation. If you race from meeting to meeting or task to task without a lunch break or even so much as a bathroom break, stop! Breathe. Get some fresh air. Take a break. You will be amazed at how much more productive you can become after a break and how much your mood will improve for rest.

Learn to forgive

Just like you don’t go to work to become angry, your manager and colleagues don’t conspire to upset you. When things go wrong at work, rise up to the challenge to show compassion for others and forgive mistakes. By forgiving others, you free yourself from your angry mood. Research shows that people who are able muster forgiveness have improved health and experience less stress, lower blood pressure, less hostility and a stronger capacity manager their anger.

If you need help to manage your anger, see your general practitioner, a psychologist or counsellor.

Written by Char Weeks, Executive Master Coach, Change Champions & Associates

Check out Manage Your Energy Rather Than Your Time, the e-learning module at

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