Managing anger in the workplace

Our frequent columnist Alan Price, CEO of BrightHR, thinks about what happens when people get annoyed at work – and how to deal with it.

managing anger in the workplace


Anger is a perfectly normal human response in situations when people feel frustrated, stressed, or backed into a corner. And since we spend a third of our life at work, it’s not surprising that this emotion can periodically spill over into the workplace.

Whether it’s a passive-aggressive email from a colleague, a last-minute lunchtime meeting, or something as small as the frustration of an unfilled printer paper tray. It’s near impossible to never feel a flicker of annoyance during the working day.

Let’s face it. No one goes about their lives, completely free from inconvenience. And employees in even the smoothest-running businesses are bound to have some gripes. But there are things you can do to keep calm or mitigate the impact anger can have in your workplace.

So, how can you manage outbursts of anger?

The workplace can be a hotbed of clashing personalities and ideas. Whilst healthy disagreement and debate should be encouraged as they often give way to innovation and progress, from time to time, conflict can arise and morph into full-blown rage.

Managers should encourage the employee to step away from the situation and go to a quiet space such as a meeting room. Once the employee has calmed down, the employee’s manager should discuss with them what caused the angry outburst and try to find a way to resolve the issue. It may be appropriate to signpost the employee to sources of help such as occupational health, mental health first aiders or an employee assistance programme if the employee is experiencing problems with anger. In some circumstances, disciplinary action may be warranted, in which case the employer should make sure that they follow their disciplinary procedure.

Anger itself isn’t something to avoid, dodge or suppress—it’s something to work through in a healthy manner.

Don’t meet anger with anger

It can be hard to stay silent when met with anger, but often it’s best to let colleagues finish airing their thoughts and refrain from interrupting. If they are shouting, you should ask them to speak respectfully, but let them share first.

Remember to maintain professionalism and don’t make it personal. The only thing you can control in this situation is how you react. Keep it professional and factual. Together find a solution for moving forward and, if needed, find a mediator.

Outbursts of anger by employees in the workplace are often unexpected and can take managers and colleagues by surprise. It is important to manage these outbursts when they happen to avoid the situation escalating and affecting other employees. Outbursts of anger that are not handled properly can have a negative impact on employee morale and productivity, and can even lead to a toxic work culture.

When anger hits the headlines

Anger can arise in every workplace and in every occupation. Novak Djokovic infamously showed a display of rage in the Wimbledon Men’s Final earlier this summer, where he slammed his racket into a post after losing a serve.

Other notable examples of public figures having emotive outbursts in a working environment include Jeremy Clarkson, who lost his cool at The British Press Awards in London when he let his anger get the best of him, punching controversial Journalist, Piers Morgan. And again in 2015 when he was suspended from the BBC after assaulting Top Gear producer Oisin Tymon.

We might not all smash tennis rackets or punch colleagues on even our worst day at work. But these cases do give us cause to consider the ways anger manifests in the workplace.

From the shove of a chair behind you as you storm away from a meeting or your desk, to slamming doors or even, in more extreme circumstances, breaking equipment, anger might escalate to more than harsh words.

Is stress to blame?

For some cases of anger, disciplinary action might be warranted. Djokovic received a code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct on court and Clarkson was suspended indefinitely. However, there is also an element of understanding and processing in most cases. It can be a build-up of stress, rather than a sudden moment out of the blue.

Stress, anxiety, and frustration are all catalysts for anger so for those who are under a lot of pressure or more emotionally invested in their work, it can be easy to get riled up. But taking ownership and accountability when it comes to anger can stop the reactive nature of the emotion in its tracks.

Staying calm, encouraging breaks, and taking active steps to reduce stress are all a great place to start. It’s up to the employer to set a good example and a precedent. Once you can deal with and control your own anger, you’ll be able to spot the signs in others.

Your employees are human, with real human emotion, so escalation to anger can’t always be avoided. But it can be managed so that any negative impact to the business and to their colleagues is minimised.

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