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Anger in the Workplace: How to Address and Resolve Conflicts

Anger in the Workplace: How to Address and Resolve Conflicts

According to the British Association of Anger Management (BAAM), 80% of people think that Britain is getting angrier and that this increase in anger is affecting our professional lives. In fact, 45% of people said they regularly lose their temper in the workplace. 

Workplace anger occurs when an individual expresses strong displeasure, frustration or hostility in a work environment. An emotional display of anger can occur in many ways, including raised voices, inappropriate language, aggressive behaviour, threatening behaviour, physical confrontations, verbal abuse and violence. Displays of anger can range in intensity, from subtle signs of displeasure to overt expressions of anger.

With anger in the workplace appearing to be a growing issue, knowing how to deal with situations of high negative emotions, resolve conflicts and reduce incidences of anger at work is a key consideration for many employers.

Recognising workplace anger

Workplace anger refers to anger that takes place at work. Workplace anger can arise for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Interpersonal conflicts (e.g. with colleagues).
  • Job-related stress.
  • Perceiving unfair treatment (e.g. believing the manager treats other employees more favourably).
  • Work-related stress and anxiety.
  • A poor work-life balance.
  • High workload.
  • Frustrations with work processes.
  • Communication issues.
  • Difficulties with management.
  • Unclear or unrealistic expectations.
  • Dissatisfaction with feedback or performance evaluations.

When considering whether workplace anger is occurring, it is important to differentiate between occasional, manageable frustration that may be situational and minor and recurring, serious or disruptive anger. Occasional frustration can be a normal part of work life and individuals may experience it when facing challenges or setbacks. As long as the display of emotion is appropriate, unthreatening and undisruptive and the anger isn’t negatively affecting the individual or the workplace, occasional workplace anger may not be an issue that needs addressing. However, chronic and unaddressed anger or strong displays of anger can have a detrimental effect on the individual experiencing the anger, other members of the team and the work environment as a whole.

There are several ways you can recognise workplace anger, even in situations where the anger is not overt or disruptive.

  • Look for behavioural changes
    Detecting changes in behaviour is a useful way of recognising workplace anger. Noticeable changes may include increased irritability, withdrawal from team activities, a decline in work quality, a change in body language (e.g. increased pacing during work tasks) and excessive venting or complaining. To be aware of behavioural changes, you will first need to be aware of what behaviour is typical for each person. For example, being quiet and not engaging in work activities may be typical behaviour for one employee and unusual for another.
  • Look for changes in mental health
    Workplace anger is often preluded by changes in the individual’s mental health. They may demonstrate more signs of work-based stress, anxiety or depression, may have difficulties expressing their emotions in a healthy way, may begin to hold grudges at work or engage in sulking behaviours or may appear to be more emotional. Someone experiencing anger at work may also begin to turn their anger inward to avoid emotional outbursts or may begin missing work or attending work late.
  • Monitor interactions
    Negative interactions and conflicts in the workplace can often cause workplace anger. Being aware of strained interactions between team members, any conflicts that are occurring (particularly if there is an increase in conflicts) and any informal or formal complaints that are made can help you identify workplace anger before a major issue arises.
  • Organise regular check-ins
    Organising regular check-ins with the team, whether formal or informal, is a great way to recognise anger or frustrations in the workplace. You could create a channel of communication, offer employees a way to report issues anonymously and create an open dialogue regarding emotion. Allowing employees to express their concerns or difficulties before the issue escalates into anger can be very beneficial.

By recognising the various forms workplace anger can take and understanding the potential consequences of unchecked anger, you can take proactive steps to address and mitigate conflicts, helping to create a more positive and productive work environment.

Addressing workplace anger involves recognising and managing emotions, promoting open communication and implementing conflict resolution strategies. Managers and supervisors play an important role in creating a positive work culture and addressing conflicts promptly to prevent anger from escalating into a more serious issue. Training programmes, clear policies and a commitment to creating a respectful and supportive workplace can contribute to a healthier work environment.

Impact of anger on the workplace

Impact on the workplace

Repeated or severe anger in the workplace or an escalation of unchecked anger can impact the workplace in many ways, including:

  • A toxic work environment
    Workplace anger can lead to a toxic work environment. A negative culture can affect the job satisfaction of employees, deter potential talent from joining the team and impact long-term success. A toxic work environment can also escalate into more severe behaviours, including harassment and bullying and more overt expressions of anger.
  • Decreased productivity
    When individuals are preoccupied with anger or conflicts, their focus and energy are diverted from their work tasks. Decreased productivity results from disruptions, lack of collaboration and an inability to concentrate on job responsibilities. Displays of anger can also disrupt other individuals in the workplace and impact the overall work environment, causing lower productivity for those not experiencing anger. This can result in missed deadlines, lower profitability, delays, lower outcomes, higher employee turnover and lost business.
  • Impact employee morale
    A workplace with unresolved anger and ongoing conflicts can create a negative atmosphere that affects employee morale. Low morale can result in disengagement, reduced enthusiasm for work and increased turnover, as employees seek more positive and supportive environments.
  • Mental health implications
    There may be multiple mental health implications for the individual experiencing workplace anger. This can include higher levels of stress and anxiety, depression and burnout. Workplace anger can negatively affect an individual’s physical and mental health.
  • Impact team dynamics
    When left unaddressed, individual anger can escalate and disrupt team dynamics, leading to a toxic work culture and strained interpersonal relationships. Damaged relationships can create a tense and hostile work environment, can reduce collaboration and effective communication and affect the overall cohesion of the team. Team members may become reluctant to share ideas, contribute to discussions or work together, which can hinder the achievement of team goals.
  • Increase in absences
    A negative work environment can result in higher absences, as employees want to avoid spending time in a negative environment. Frequent absences disrupt workflow, increase the workload on the remaining team members and contribute to a decline in overall productivity.

By understanding and addressing the impact of anger on the workplace, your workplace can prioritise conflict resolution and focus on creating a positive and productive work environment that contributes to the wellbeing and success of both individuals and the organisation as a whole.

Conflict resolution strategies

Workplace conflicts often occur and may be inevitable at times; however, implementing effective conflict resolution strategies can help de-escalate anger and promote a healthier work environment. 

Some conflict resolution strategies you can implement in your workplace include:

  • Encourage open and effective communication
    Creating an environment where employees feel comfortable engaging in open communication to address any misunderstandings or express concerns can be beneficial in preventing workplace anger and addressing it in a conducive way if it occurs. By promoting transparency, employees can better understand each other’s perspectives, reducing the likelihood of anger stemming from miscommunication. Open communication also encourages individuals to raise the issue early, which can help to prevent the anger or conflict from escalating.
  • Active listening
    Active listening promotes empathy and demonstrates a commitment to understanding, which can defuse anger and create a more collaborative atmosphere. Training employees to actively listen to each other without interrupting, ensures a full understanding of the other person’s viewpoint and can help to resolve conflicts more easily before they become too emotionally fraught. Active listening also demonstrates respect, which can improve relationships and prevent workplace anger.
  • Implement mediation services
    Mediation services may be required to solve the issue that preceded the anger. For example, if the individual was involved in a workplace conflict or believes they are being unfairly treated by a supervisor, mediation with an HR representative or another third party may be required to resolve the issue and prevent further occurrences of anger. Impartial mediation can help an individual to manage their emotions and work towards solutions that address the root causes of anger.
  • Conflict resolution training
    Equipping individuals with the skills to effectively navigate conflicts can prevent the escalation of anger and contribute to a more amicable work environment. Providing employees and management with training on conflict resolution techniques and strategies can teach them how to prevent and resolve conflict in the workplace.
  • Offer mental health support
    In many cases, outbursts of anger occur because the employee is having difficulties with their mental health or is facing difficulties in other areas of their lives. Offering mental health support services to employees can not only improve their mental health, reduce incidences of workplace conflict and reduce workplace anger, but it can also improve performance and productivity.
  • Establish cooling-off periods
    Encourage individuals to take a break during heated discussions or conflicts before resuming the conversation. Providing an opportunity or space for emotions to settle can prevent impulsive reactions and allow for more rational, constructive conversations.
Role of management on anger in the workplace

Role of management

Managers and supervisors play a significant role in creating a positive and productive work environment, particularly when it comes to addressing workplace anger and conflicts. One of the most important ways management can help address anger in the workplace is through early intervention. Recognising signs of workplace anger early and intervening promptly and appropriately can prevent conflicts and anger from escalating and can minimise the impact on the individual and the team as a whole.

Management should also offer support and guidance to any employees showing signs of anger or who are experiencing conflicts or difficulties in the workplace. Offering practical and emotional support, helping employees to navigate any challenges they face and supporting them to find solutions can help to prevent anger from becoming a long-term issue. Managers who are adept at resolving conflicts can model positive behaviour for their team, encouraging employees to follow suit. Management could consider offering their employees conflict resolution or anger management training. Equipping employees with the skills to manage conflicts can reduce incidences of anger in the workplace and reduce the burden on managers to address every issue. 

Management also plays an important role in creating a positive work culture. A positive culture contributes to employee satisfaction, reducing the likelihood of anger and conflicts. One way to do this is to ensure a fair and consistent approach to managing employees. Fairness builds trust and demonstrates to employees that conflicts will be handled impartially, which creates a sense of justice, mutual respect and trust within the workplace. Management should also lead by example, by demonstrating emotional intelligence and the ability to manage their own emotions and understand and be respectful of other people’s emotions. 

If any displays of anger occur, it is important that management monitor the outcome of the conflict and follow up on the issue with all individuals involved to ensure that a resolution has been reached and any agreed-upon actions are implemented. This can help to prevent the reoccurrence of conflict and can prevent anger from becoming a long-term issue.

Establishing clear policies

An effective way of preventing workplace anger is by setting clear expectations and policies regarding acceptable workplace behaviour. Creating a framework for appropriate conduct at work can reduce the likelihood of workplace anger occurring and can set procedures that should be followed in the event that workplace anger or conflict occurs. Your policy could include:

  • Expected standards of conduct.
  • Conflict resolution procedures.
  • Reporting procedures.
  • Confidentiality protocols.
  • Anti-retaliation policies.
  • Training programmes.
  • Clearly defined roles and responsibilities of each individual (e.g. employees, supervisors, managers, HR staff and mediators).
  • Documentation procedures (e.g. how the issue will be recorded).
  • Escalation procedures, if necessary.
  • Information regarding when the policy will be reviewed.

Any policies you implement should be read by each employee and should be signed to demonstrate their understanding of and agreement with the policy. 

Clear policies and procedures serve as a guide for employees and management, helping them through the resolution process and creating a fair and consistent framework that everyone is aware of and in agreement with. By emphasising the importance of these policies, the workplace can establish a culture that values conflict resolution and fosters a healthier, more collaborative workplace, where incidences of workplace anger are not acceptable.

Mediation and interventions

Mediation and intervention can be an important step in resolving workplace conflict and intervening in incidences of workplace anger, particularly if the issue cannot be effectively resolved by the parties involved. However, it can be difficult to know when it is the appropriate time to bring in a mediator. A mediator may be recommended for:

  • Persistent or serious conflicts or displays of anger.
  • When the issue is affecting mental wellbeing, productivity or the work environment.
  • For more complex issues.
  • When other attempts at resolution have failed.
  • In situations of high emotional tension.
  • If a conflict concerns people of different power rankings (e.g. between a manager and an employee).

A mediator should be an impartial third party, for example, an HR representative or a supervisor from another department. There are many potential benefits to intervention from a mediator, including:

  • Objectivity: Because they are not involved in the issue, a mediator can offer objective, unbiased advice and guidance.
  • Facilitating communication: A mediator will be skilled at encouraging open communication and can help any conversations to be respectful and constructive.
  • De-escalating conflict: A mediator will be trained to de-escalate conflicts and high emotions and create a calm environment conducive to a resolution. Removing the high emotions of a situation is necessary for an effective intervention.
  • Impartial decision-making: If a decision is required, for example regarding inappropriate conduct or a break in the employee contract, a mediator can make an impartial decision based on the facts.

Knowing that a mediator is involved can reassure all parties involved that a fair process will take place and that the intervention will remain unbiased and respectful. A mediator can also help to create a long-lasting resolution and reduce the likelihood of future occurrences of anger.

Preventing future conflicts at work

Preventing future conflicts

Proactively addressing and preventing workplace anger and conflicts requires a comprehensive approach. Many of the tips listed above can help to prevent future conflicts from occurring. Additional strategies you could implement to prevent future conflicts and workplace anger are listed below.

  • Team-building exercises
    Team-building exercises are beneficial for strengthening relationships in the workplace, building a positive team dynamic, improving communication and creating a stronger team culture. This can help to prevent future conflicts from occurring.
  • Creating a culture of respect
    Creating a workplace culture centred around respect and positive communication can prevent workplace conflicts. This can be done in multiple ways including clearly communicating the expectations regarding behaviour and communication, recognising and rewarding positive collaborations and encouraging team bonding.
  • Creating open communication channels
    Establishing open lines of communication gives workers the opportunity to address any concerns and allows them to identify potential issues before they arise. It also creates transparency and trust between employees and management and provides opportunities for feedback and improvement. There are multiple ways this can be done, including regular team meetings, 1:1 meetings with each worker, an open-door policy for management and an anonymous reporting system.
  • Encouraging a work-life balance
    A good work-life balance can protect the mental and physical health of your employees. It can reduce work-related stress, anxiety and burnout, improve job satisfaction and create a more positive work environment and culture.
  • Promoting diversity and inclusion
    Ensuring your workplace is a diverse and inclusive environment and that employees undergo diversity and inclusion training can help prevent bias-related conflicts and feelings of discrimination or exclusion. This can create a collaborative and respectful work environment.

By implementing these proactive strategies, you can create a workplace culture that minimises conflicts, creates more positive relationships and equips employees with the skills to deal with feelings of anger and other negative emotions more appropriately.

Conclusion

In conclusion, workplace anger is an issue that, when left unaddressed, can have far-reaching consequences on individuals and the workplace as a whole. Recognising the various forms that workplace anger can take, learning how to recognise anger and conflicts and understanding the potential impact of workplace anger is the first step towards creating a more positive and productive work environment and preventing future occurrences of anger in the workplace. Workplaces should prioritise conflict resolution strategies and focus on improving effective communication, active listening and a culture of respect.

Management plays a vital role in addressing workplace anger and conflict, not only through early intervention but also by creating a positive workplace culture that values open communication and proactive conflict resolution. Establishing clear policies and procedures provides a structured framework for addressing conflicts and promoting consistency and fairness. 

Addressing workplace anger and conflict and preventing these issues from occurring in the future can help to protect the mental and physical health of your employees and can help to protect the workplace as a whole. Creating a positive, supportive and collaborative working environment can have far-reaching positive outcomes.

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About the author

Nicole Murphy

Nicole Murphy

Nicole graduated with a First-Class Honours degree in Psychology in 2013. She works as a writer and editor and tries to combine all her passions - writing, education, and psychology. Outside of work, Nicole loves to travel, go to the beach, and drink a lot of coffee! She is currently training to climb Machu Picchu in Peru.



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