Workplace Rights

Weekly (7/20/09)

Topic of the Week  Raging Bull - Dealing with angry employees

Dealing With Angry Employees at Work:
• DO acknowledge anger exists.
• DO become more anger aware.
• DO prevention.
• DON’T overlook the source.

Your Rant: My employees all come to work with a lousy attitude today.

911 Repair,
Given the unemployment rate today, it’s no wonder that people have a bad attitude. Lost savings, pay and benefit cuts and the ever-present layoff guillotine blade hanging over all of our heads. Which reminds me of a time I was lost in Jersey. I pulled off the road into a three-lane shoulder, so I was far out of the traffic. A guy slowed down, opened his window and screamed obscenities at me. Even for Jersey this was more bile than I was used to.

Unfortunately, like that guy, many of us are walking around angry right now. With few avenues to vent (yes, that pun was intended) we bottle it up until we explode. That’s why I’ve included three Do’s and one Don’t for dealing with anger at work below. For more check out “Business: The Ultimate Resource” (Perseus, 2002).

DO acknowledge anger exists. There is even a new phrase for anger at work, desk rage. If not properly handled, it can be every bit as dangerous as road rage. That’s why it’s important to start by understanding how most people have been affected by downsizing, excessive pressure to produce for not only themselves but for their departed colleagues and generalized fear for the future. Not a pretty sight. You might not be able to heal all of these wounds, but at least you can avoid pouring salt in them. Accept that people will often need to blow off steam, don’t take it personally.

DO become more anger aware. Anger often gives off early warning signals that can be discovered in background checks, provocative statements at work and on the job meltdowns. Resist the temptation to just accept it as, “That’s just Sandy being Sandy.” Acknowledging anger doesn’t mean that you condone it. You need to take note when this happens and look for additional signals of a problem. I’m not talking progressive discipline, just paying attention when an employee sends out a signal that they’re approaching the breaking point.

DO prevention. Many organizations have tools for addressing situations before they become a crisis. Employee Assistance Programs (E.A.P.), hotlines, even systems that can text employees if a crisis erupts. Too many programs only get introduced after the bodies pile up, more organizations need to create prevention programs in advance of a crisis.

DON’T overlook the source. Sure there are people who have mental health challenges and are simply a ticking time bomb. But there are many more who blow up at the final loss of dignity and control. This is one area where your actions can play a huge role not only in preventing violence, but also in creating a saner workplace. Give dignity and control to your people wherever you can and in some places where you think you can’t.

Okay, there is at least one guy in Jersey who just might be beyond a reasonable intervention, but for most of us problem behavior can be identified and minimized.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning If you have a question for Bob, contact him via

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