Compassion, Not Punishment, Helps Diffuse Workplace Anger: Study

THURSDAY April 14, 2011 -- The best response to workplace anger is compassion, not punishment, a new study suggests.

Supportive reactions by managers and co-workers to an employees' angry outburst can actually lead to positive changes in the workplace, while chastising or taking no action accomplishes nothing, according to Deanna Geddes, chair of the human resource management department at Temple University's Fox School of Business in Philadelphia.

The study included 194 people who had witnessed an angry outburst (deviant anger) at work. The researchers found no connection between firing an upset employee and solving underlying workplace problems, but they did find that even a single act of support by a manager or co-worker for the irate employee can improve workplace tension.

The researchers wrote that "when companies choose to sanction organizational members expressing deviant anger, these actions may divert attention and resources from correcting the initial, anger-provoking event that triggered the employee's emotional outburst."

On the other hand, if managers show "an active interest in addressing underlying issues that prompted employee anger, perceptions of improved situations increased significantly."

The study appears in the journal Human Relations.

"Business codes of conduct are often about what we shouldn't do as an angry employee in emotional episodes, while few, if any, tend to address our role as observers of emotional episodes," the researchers wrote. "Such guidelines, if available, could expand to include positive suggestions for those who witness, judge and respond to angry employees -- formally or informally."

More information

The American Psychological Association offers tips on how to deal with your boss.

Posted: April 2011


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