Although angry employees are a key concern for most managers, angry managers are just as often a key concern for employees. Employees are unfortunately convenient when a manager blows a gasket — again, often for reasons completely unrelated to the anger. Managers, like employees, sometimes carry problems from home or other dimensions of their lives into the workplace. A fight with your spouse or kids might start your day with a sour outlook. Because you know you have to go to work and deal with all the pressures there, you try to stay calm and collected at home so you can at least leave with the delusion of peace and harmony. But when you get to work, an employee says or does something that triggers those feelings you've swallowed, and back up they rush. Before you know it, you're dumping all over this employee whose only offense was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time saying the wrong thing.
There are many pressures in today's world, both at home and at work. Your company's employee assistance program (EAP) can be a good resource for employees and managers alike. Most EAPs provide short-term counseling to help people find solutions to their problems. Many EAPs extend consultation services to managers and supervisors, offering advice and recommendations about workplace issues. Such interventions help managers deal with stress and the factors that cause it, and they can head off problems before they become serious.
Managers can get away with a lot of abusive behavior toward employees, or at least they think they can. They can close the door and say what they want and get away with it — for the short term. But the toll in loss of morale and even legal issues at some point catches up. Employees learn quickly to read the moods of their managers. When managers have problems at home or are feeling pressure from other departments or their superiors, employees learn to anticipate venting and tirades. Some duck for cover behind work projects that take them out of the office, while others get angry themselves.
When a manager loses control, and particularly when the loss unleashes anger toward employees, the consequences can be severe and far-reaching. When you feel anger rising within you that you know is going to splash all over some employee, take a deep breath and ask yourself a few questions:
Is this employee the source of my anger?
If so, why?
If not, who or what is?
Am I really feeling angry, or am I disappointed?
What, realistically, can the employee or I do to remedy the situation?
Can I talk with the employee about this without losing my cool?
What is the worst that can happen if I just walk away from this and address it later?
If you can't talk to the employee without losing your temper, do whatever you need to do to cool off before you say anything to anyone. Then, before you approach the employee, write some notes to yourself that explain the problem as you see it, what adverse consequences occurred as a result, and what solutions you propose. Stick to this “script” in your conversation (even if you need to refer to your notes while you're talking) to help keep yourself calm and focused.
Sometimes managers use anger as a way of turning employees against the company. A manager may not like the direction of the company, for example, so he incites anger in his employees, hoping that he can hurt the company by hurting them. This gets everybody angry and unites the work group in battle. Although employees are often unaware that this is what's going on, they are likely to suffer the consequences in terms of lost opportunities and bad reputations.