In Hot Water: Adverse Impact of Workplace Anger

By Alana Smart / February 20, 2024 / Blog ,

Two angry coworkers in an office

In Hot Water: Adverse Impact of Workplace Anger

Previous research has suggested that expressing anger in the workplace boosts perceptions of competence and status among employees, potentially leading to increased power and financial rewards. However, recent research from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) and Princeton University challenges the prevailing belief that workplace anger leads to higher status, shedding new light on how anger impacts perceptions of competence, status, and overall workplace dynamics. Their findings carry significant implications for employers committed to nurturing healthy, productive environments that prioritize occupational health and psychological safety.

Dispelling Workplace Anger Myths

The researchers conducted four studies with almost 4,000 participants to test whether anger at work leads to higher status and power, employing methodologies from “now-classic studies”. In each study, participants judged the status, power, independence, respect, and salary of workers who expressed anger, sadness, or no emotion. The researchers also looked at differences in gender, target of the emotional expression, and context to ensure the validity of their findings.
Findings reveal a contradiction between the belief that people who express anger have higher status and how their anger is actually perceived by others. Rather than rewarding the expression of anger with increased status, participants felt that anger was inappropriate, unproductive and had a negative impact on the workplace. Negative attitudes towards anger in the workplace were common. Participants considered it more harmful, foolish and worthless compared to other emotions.

Anger and Gender Dynamics

“To test the boundaries of our findings, we experimentally varied the gender of the worker expressing the emotion (i.e., men or women), the target of the emotional expression (i.e., another person, the circumstances), and the context in which the emotion was expressed (i.e., job interview, a normal workday),” says Roni Porat, a senior lecturer at the Hebrew University in the Departments of Political Science and International Relations. Along with Elizabeth Levy Paluck of Princeton University, he conducted the study. “We experimentally varied the workers’ gender to understand whether our findings held for both men and women. This is important given some work demonstrating that women are penalized for expressing anger while men are rewarded.”

Despite previous research suggesting that people perceive anger expressions differently based on gender, this study found no significant difference in the evaluation of men’s and women’s anger expressions. This challenges past notions and prompts a reconsideration of gendered norms surrounding anger in the workplace. Although the study challenges the idea that women’s anger is perceived differently from men’s, certain limitations remain, such as addressing familiar stereotypes like the “angry Black woman.”

Despite limitations, these findings provide a compelling counterpoint to the prevailing narratives about anger as an instrumental emotion. They underscore the intricate emotional dynamics present in professional environments. Additionally, they advocate for a nuanced understanding of the implications of expressing anger at work. 

Cooling the Flames: Strategies for Anger Management

In light of the challenges posed by workplace anger, employers can take proactive to help employees with their emotions. Drawing from insights provided by the American Psychological Association, here are some key strategies:

  • Relaxation Techniques: Encourage deep breathing, visualization, and yoga-like exercises to help employees manage anger and stress effectively.
  • Cognitive Restructuring: Promote rational thinking and perspective-taking to prevent anger from escalating, fostering a more balanced approach to challenging situations.
  • Problem-Solving Skills: Foster resilience and perseverance by emphasizing actionable steps and progress in addressing workplace issues.
  • Improved Communication: Cultivate open dialogue, active listening, and empathy to minimize misunderstandings and promote constructive conflict resolution.
  • Humor as a Coping Mechanism: Use lighthearted humor to defuse tension and strengthen team cohesion. However, it’s important to use humor sensitively and ensure it contributes to a positive work culture.

By implementing these strategies, employers can create a supportive and inclusive workplace. Additionally, they can help employees feel empowered to manage their emotions effectively, ultimately enhancing overall workplace culture and psychological safety.



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