Frontline Supervisor: Anger in the Workplace

Frontline Supervisor: Anger in the Workplace

On 11 Aug 2017, in Frontline Supervisor, Workplace, anger issues

Each month, "The Balance Sheet" provides questions and answers from experts on a topic that's important to you as a manager. Please feel free to share this information with other colleagues who also manage people.


Q. My boss wants me to deal with my “anger issues” and suggested anger management classes. I admit that under pressure I sometimes act like a hothead, but isn’t my boss being an “armchair diagnostician” by saying that I have anger issues?

A. Your boss can see and experience your anger. This makes it an observable and legitimate problem for him or her to address. As with absenteeism and disorganization, angry behavior that is disruptive can be quantified by the number of incidents and its effect on others. So your boss is not acting as an armchair diagnostician with such a statement. However, suggesting the type of counseling needed is an example of acting as an armchair diagnostician. Anger management counseling helps a person gain control over his or her reaction to feeling irritated and annoyed. Many people referred for anger management are really struggling with rage, which is a very intense and violent (or bordering on violent) response. Often an event or incident can trigger rage. You should self-refer to BJC EAP to discuss the anger issue first and they will help you determine the best form of help.


Q. We have an employee who gets very angry and exhibits rage. Thankfully, his performance is good, but I worry about having to fire him someday. What is the risk of violence if an employee like this is fired?

A. An examination of workplace violence incidents shows some common patterns. One is an employee’s violent response to unexpected termination where, as a result, the employee believed the company or supervisor “ruined” his life. This underscores the importance of working closely with employees in correcting performance, using BJC EAP, providing regular feedback and having regular performance reviews. Use performance improvement plans and apply progressive disciplinary steps if ever needed, where each step is accompanied by an alternative to visit BJC EAP. No one can predict an employee’s reaction to termination, but the less sudden and surprising it is to a potentially violent employee, in all probability, the lower the risk of a violent response.


Q. I read somewhere that supervisors should never get angry at their employees. I am not sure I agree with that advice. Isn’t it better for employees to see the real person in a supervisor rather than a machine with no emotions?

A. The supervisor’s job is to coach, direct, develop, educate and counsel employees on work issues. He or she performs these functions as a representative of the work organization with whom the employee has a pay-for-hire relationship. Supervisory functions do not include demonstration of anger that the organization feels toward employees for failure to perform satisfactorily. Because this role does not exist, the supervisor expressing anger is implying that his or her personal boundaries have been violated, and is supplanting the organization’s relationship with his or her own. When employees disappoint, corrective tools and administrative measures exist to help them improve performance. A supervisor can feel anger, of course, but to act on these feelings and display an emotional reaction can only diminish the quality and effectiveness of the relationship the employee has with the organization.


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