Get out of the way, road rage. There's a growing menace to our lives -
Anger in the workplace - employees and employers who are grumpy,
insulting, short-tempered or worse - is shockingly common and likely
growing as Americans cope with woes of rising costs, job uncertainty or
overwhelming debt, experts say.
"It runs gamut from just rudeness up to pretty extreme abusive
behaviours," said Paul Spector, professor of industrial and organisational
psychology at the University of South Florida. "The severe cases of fatal
violence get a lot of press but in some ways this is more insidious
because it affects millions of people."
Nearly half of US workers in America report yelling and verbal abuse on
the job, with roughly a quarter saying it has driven them to tears,
research has shown.
Other research showed one-sixth of workers reported anger at work has led
to property damage, while a tenth reported physical violence and fear
their workplace might not be safe.
"It's a total disaster," said Anna Maravelas, author of "How to Reduce
Workplace Conflict and Stress." "Rudeness, impatience, people being angry
- we used to do that kind of stuff at home but at work, we were
professional. Now it's almost becoming trendy to do it at work.
"It was something we did behind closed doors," she said. "Now people are
losing their sense of embarrassment over it."
Contemporary pressures such as rising fuel costs fan the flames, said John
Challenger, head of Chicago's Challenger, Gray & Christmas workplace
"People are coming to work after a long commute, sitting in traffic
watching their discretionary income burn up. They're ready for a fight or
just really upset," he said.
Added to that, he said, are financially strapped workers having to cut
back on paying for personal pastimes that might serve as an antidote to
"That means people come into work after a weekend and they haven't been
able to let off any steam," he said.
Spector said his research has found 2 per cent to 3 per cent of people
admit to pushing, slapping or hitting someone at work. With roughly 100
million people in the US work force, he said, that's as many as 3 million
Maravelas said she conducted a seminar this week in rural Iowa, where she
asked participants if they thought anger was increasing at their
Everyone raised their hands, she said, which is typically the response she
gets. She cited research showing 88 per cent of US employees think
incivility is rising at work.
"Many of us sense we're losing ground economically and socially. The
safety net is unravelling. Hence, anxiety and unease are skyrocketing,"
People reassure themselves by blaming others and "find comfort in
believing their suffering is caused by a callous, incompetent or selfish
organisation, leader, supplier, union or regulatory body," she said.
The worst offenders are overachievers, said Rachelle Canter, a workplace
expert and social psychologist. "The usual profile is Type A, really,
really smart, with impossibly high standards they set for themselves as
well as for other people.
"They are so invested, I would say maybe over-invested, in success and in
everyone being every bit as driven as they are that they just lose their
sense of perspective, and they can lash out at other people," said Canter,
author of "Make the Right Career Move."
But desk rage extends across industry and class lines, from top
white-collar jobs to gritty blue-collar work, and companies pay dearly in
terms of lost productivity, sagging morale and higher absenteeism, Spector
The worst cases end in violence, he said.
"Somebody didn't just come to work one day and shoot somebody," Spector
said. "There's probably been a pattern of less extreme behaviours leading
up to it."