Anger at the behaviour of others at work is stoking workplace violence, affecting productivity and pushing up stress levels, according to new research.
Speaking at the British Psychological Society's Occupational Psychology Conference, researcher Jill Booth from the University of Central Lancashire said that anger at work may have long as well as short-term consequences for both the individual and their organisation.
Mrs Booth carried out in-depth interviews with 24 males and females in management and non-management positions in a range of sectors including retail, education and health. What she found left her shocked at the scale of anger among staff.
Immoral behaviour such as cheating, lying, stealing or other misbehaviour is most likely to cause colleagues to get angry, but incompetent managers, an onerous workload or being treated unjustly also make people see red.
Other common causes of anger were others’ job incompetence, people being disrespectful – for example being rude or arrogant - or people simply failing to communicate and excluding the individual.
Research carried out across Europe last year found that poor management was the most common cause of workplace anger, with almost four out of ten saying that it was the issue that made them most angry about their jobs.
The sentiment was echoed in this latest research, with some of those interviewed complaining that their managers were exploiting their position by not doing their jobs properly or regularly turning up late for work.
Mrs Booth found that angry individuals adopted a wide range of coping strategies including talking to others, letting off steam, negotiating a resolution or cold-shouldering the offender. In a minority of incidents there was legitimate punishment of the offender.
The study also found that making work colleagues angry can have undesirable consequences for the offender. A common reaction from the angry person is to mete out some form of unofficial punishment such as gossiping about the offender, telling lies about them or giving them undesirable jobs.
Long-term consequences include feeling chronically angry about the incident, quitting or considering leaving the job and allowing the anger to affect home life.
"People told me they were angry morning, noon and night," said Mrs Booth. "The problem needs to be dealt with because it is causing people to feel depressed, stressed and disillusioned about their work."
A separate report presented to the conference found that it is counter-effective for managers to write aggressive e-mails as it increases negativity in staff.