Everybody has the occasional bad day, but how does management address the chronically angry employee?
Getting to the source
Although the inclination may be to avoid an angry employee, there are good reasons for management to get involved. Left unaddressed, anger can affect other employees, department productivity, and even corporate goals.
The angry person
also puts him/herself at risk. A study conducted by Daniel Vinson, M.D., at the
University of Missouri
Vinson and his colleagues interviewed patients at three emergency rooms over a two-year period. Anger more than quadrupled a person's odds of being injured, they found.
The first step in addressing anger in the workplace is at the direct report level, according to Ari Novick, Ph.D., a Certified Anger Management Professional and trainer. However, if anger is chronic it will need to be addressed by human resources, he says.
Novick conducts workshops and seminars for both public and private sector employers and is coauthor of the highly acclaimed workbook on anger management, "Anger Management for the Twenty-First Century."
He finds companies are increasingly interested in helping employees manage anger. Frequently, they refer people to outside help. With proper assistance, people can learn to manage anger, Novick says.
But there is one caveat: A person has to be willing to take responsibility for his or her anger. "If a person doesn't view it as their problem, that it's everyone else, then it's usually not helpful," Novick says.
Focusing on treatment
Conversely, if a person sees that his behavior is a contributing factor, he can be helped.
People can be treated in groups or one on one. Treatment sometimes depends on the person's level in the organization. If an executive or other employee with a lot of managerial responsibility has anger management issues, he can benefit from one-on-one anger management coaching, Novick says.
Individual treatment allows for a detailed assessment of that individual, he explains. The focus includes looking at how well the person manages stress, how much empathy he has, how impulsive he is, whether he is aggressive or passive, and his overall communication style.
Some people are not comfortable when singled out and prefer to work in a group situation, Novick says. Regardless of the approach, it's important to understand what anger management involves.
"Anger management and psychotherapy are very different," says Novick, who is also a licensed psychotherapist. "Anger management by definition is educational in nature. It teaches them skills."
Finding new tools
These skills, or "anger control tools" as Novick calls them in his book, include stress management, empathy, and communication, among others.
"We also teach skills in forgiveness, which can also be a big problem in the workplace," Novick says. In addition, there are skills on how to manage expectations by adjusting them to an appropriate level. Anger management training also teaches skills that can help a person stay calm.
"People with chronic anger don't want to be angry," Novick says. "They just default to whatever they've learned."
The objective is to help them to unlearn some bad behaviors and apply new skills, he explains.
Good companies tend to refer out as to a qualified provider, as opposed to another approach, which is giving an employee unpaid leave, Novick tells HRWire.
But he cautions employers, and employees, about appropriate treatment. "Anger management is not meant to be long term," Novick says, indicating eight to 10 individual or group sessions will be sufficient for "a reasonably intelligent person who is motivated, regardless of how good the provider is or the program is."
Novick's practice, the AJ Novick Group, created in response to demand for anger management training, gets a lot of employee referrals. In working with employees, Novick finds that most people want to take a look at anger management.
Which employees are most frequently referred for training? "Mostly middle and upper management, mostly because the stress level is so high for them," Novick tells HRWire.
Those who manage many employees frequently face situations they're just not trained to address; they don't have the skills, he says.
Determining a course of action
Anger management training can be a very effective way of teaching skills and improving morale, and it can be cost effective, even one on one, Novick says.
Indeed, in the book, "Anger Management for the Twenty-First Century," Novick and coauthor Anthony Fiore cite the business cost of unmanaged anger. "Studies show that up to 42% of employee time is spent engaging in or trying to resolve conflict. This results in wasted employee time, mistakes, stress, lower morale, hampered performance, and reduced profits and/or service," they write.
However, employers should evaluate potential providers. "Anger management as a field is fairly unregulated. If a company is shopping around, ask about training and level of education," Novick advises.
Employers may also want to consider online training. Novick has found his group's online training offers a number of advantages. "It's really effective because the employee doesn't have to leave work," he says. Because training is broken into modules, a person can also approach it at his own speed.
Regardless of training method, anger management can be successful. "The employees that I see, when I'm done treating them, they are just so thrilled that their employers allowed them to do it," Novick says. Employer feedback has also been positive.
Nevertheless, before signing on, employers and employees should understand the goal of anger management training.
"Anger management is not about teaching someone not to be angry anymore," Novick says. "It's about how to handle those emotions in a more appropriate way."
Contact: Ari Novick, Ph.D., Certified Anger Management Professional and trainer, the AJ Novick Group, email@example.com.
Online: "State Anger and the Risk of Injury: A Case-Control and Case-Crossover Study," by Daniel C. Vinson, MD, MSPH and Vineesha Arelli, BS, Annals of Family Medicine, https://www.annfammed.org/cgi/content/full/4/1/63; AJ Novick Group, including online anger management classes and workplace programs, https://www.ajnovickgroup.com
© 2006 Thomson/West