By Colin Hawes, Head of Group Income Protection Claims and Medical Underwriting at Generali Employee Benefits UK
Everyone has to talk to, or work with, angry people at some point: from your boss to peers and subordinates. These interactions can be challenging. And as the overwhelming nature of today’s ‘always on’ culture shows no sign of abating, it’s a problem that’s likely to grow.
At breaking point
Deloitte first highlighted this issue in 2014 when it published the results of its Global Human Capital Trends Survey. Citing background research, which found that ‘people check their mobile devices up to 150 times every day,’ the report found that interruptions and involvement in constant and multiple communication flows (‘hyper-connectivity’) are minimising employees’ ability to absorb and process information.
Additionally, as ‘the sun never sets on a global company, so someone is always working’, new information is constantly being generated, creating unexpected difficulties with employees being able to access the “right” information.
All of this can lead to frustration and stress. Depending on the individual’s ability to self-manage such stimuli, anger can be a response, along with lack of sleep, inability to concentrate, poor diet etc.
Of course, information overload isn’t the only thing contributing to anger in the workplace. It can come completely out of the blue and is very much determined by individual responses to anxiety.
Common anger triggers include:
Being treated unjustly. An Australian study found that this was in fact the common cause of workplace anger: 77% of people responding to this effect. This study also found that we don’t tolerate being part of immoral behaviour like laziness or theft (23%) and being disrespected by coworkers (20%).
Feeling like someone is messing with your goals or obstructing your plans.
Interpersonal conflict, like personality clashes and differences in attitudes: not only causing one but many people to be angry.
Impact on health & wellbeing
Workplace anger is not only potentially harmful to the organisation, but it can also cause serious health problems, including chronic anxiety, depression, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Helping your employees to learn how to deal with their anger constructively will improve their wellbeing and productivity, not to mention their prospects.
Dealing with angry outbursts
Generali’s Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) partner LifeWorks provides the following advice to employers in a recent newsletter:
Try to calm the employee down. Assuming there is no risk of harm to you or another employee, calmly let the employee know you recognise their anger then find a quiet place where they can ‘talk it out’. Be sure to let a colleague (preferably another manager) know where you will be.
Listen to the employee. Try to create the feeling of a comfortable ‘level playing field’ to encourage the employee to talk honestly and openly. Nonverbal cues are important. Use non-threatening, open-handed gestures and listen without interruptions. Don’t take phone calls or check email while you’re talking.
Avoid arguing. Your job in this conversation is to listen to the employee. Try to offer support and empathy without taking sides and resist the temptation to defend, explain, or give your own opinions about the situation.
When you feel you understand why the employee is angry, restate the problem. Ask if you are getting a clear picture of the situation.
Describe what acceptable behavior would be and explain the consequences of unacceptable behavior. For example, in a customer service environment where an employee has been rude to a customer, explain that customers must receive the best service at all times, even if they are rude and disrespectful. Then make clear that control of emotions has to start now.
Give a fair hearing to the employee’s wishes or suggestions. Often, people who feel they’ve been wronged simply want the offending behaviour to stop. You can help them take control of the situation by encouraging them to think about an outcome that would satisfy them.
Be helpful, but realistic. Avoid agreeing on solutions just to end the discussion.
Treat the conversation as private, but don’t promise to keep it confidential. Maintaining an employee’s right to privacy is important, but so is your duty to protect the employee and others from possible harm. Remind them about the confidential help available through your organisation’s EAP.
Don’t worry, be happy
Finally, bear in mind that you can help your employees avoid anger by helping them improve their outlook on themselves and life in general.
Managing anger is as much about managing happiness and contentment as anger. It should be a part of developing emotional intelligence and resilience.
Controlling the physical response to anger can be helped by doing constructive things, such as exercising, getting enough sleep and avoiding alcohol.
Making a concerted effort to avoid looking at emails and social media after a certain time of day could also go a long way towards achieving a much happier state of being.
This article was provided by Generali-UK.