We experience a wide variety of emotions at all levels of our mind and body. Neuroscience is showing us how very complicated we are.
At home, we allow emotions more than we do at work. And yet we are the same person. We are used to this separation. We don’t talk about emotions at work. Positive emotions at work, such as happiness, are acceptable, whereas some find it difficult to acknowledge and deal with anger.
There has been a shift in leadership and organizational thinking. It has become more tolerable to speak about emotions, such as anger, stress, anxiety, and resilience. Emotions, including anger, have a purpose and function in the employee’s life and the organization.
What does this mean for human resources and leadership? We need a shift in our zeitgeist of how we understand and see employees and the emotions they show.
This does not mean that senior leaders, managers, and human resource colleagues must suddenly turn into clinical psychologists or counselors. But we need to further humanize our approach so that we see employees in a more holistic way.
The role of anger at work
People become angry for many reasons. When they are not being treated with respect, when they see inequality and injustice. Sometimes, personal issues affect their tolerance for frustration, and they become more prone to anger.
So it has a function. The goal is to understand what triggers anger for the person or the group. Not just say that we need to discipline them because their behavior is contrary to the code of conduct. This may well be true, but we should also try to understand the person without delving into a deep analysis of their anger, the associated behaviors and functions.
If staff become angry and they display it, then find out why and address the issue. Is it a personal matter such as they have a tough home life? Or are there organizational factors that need to be tackled? Including being bullied, disgruntlement about pay differentials, limited resources, and having to compromise about purpose.
‘Finding out’ means talking to the person or group once there is sufficient evidence that there is anger. We could hold this discussion with HR or a line manager or a staff counselor if that function is in place. If a counselor does become involved, then there must be agreement between HR, managers, and the counselor about the limits of confidentiality in relation to the session discussion.
Within HR, what we must not do is conduct a deep psychological analysis of the reasons for the anger. This should only be done, with permission, by a mental health professional. We can ask the staff member if there are any personal or professional issues that have an impact and if we can help. Beyond that, we need to support them to seek professional support while we address the organizational and human resource issues.
Having understood the reasons for the anger, we need to address and resolve any problems within our purview or find help for the person. Ignoring the reasons will just perpetuate the situation.
Of course, we need to ensure that all understand what acceptable behavior is and what is not via policy and practice. Help people understand we bring our personal selves and emotions to work. That it is acceptable to have emotions, but it is how we express them that makes the difference. Appreciate that there will be cultural differences in terms of emotions, and how to talk about and experience them.
Not being willing to acknowledge that we are human and fallible and prone to anger sometimes leads to future problems. People in key roles in leadership and human resources need to show their humanity beyond humor and jokes, which are a common outlet for frustration.
Have clear policies for dealing with aggression should it occur. The first step is to ensure the safety of all concerned. Some may need to learn about safe de-escalation. Physical intervention should be the last resort. Include steps to support involved staff in the aftermath.
Widening the discussion about anger and emotions
Provide opportunities for staff to talk about the positive and negative emotions they are experiencing. Recognize the positive and encourage it. Address the negative, including frustrations. Some organizations set up wellbeing support networks that are voluntary and use functions such as Microsoft Teams to have channels where people talk and learn from each other. Give training on emotions (positive and negative) and how staff can cope.
Ensure leaders and managers know how to supervise and incorporate a human element into those discussions so that the supervision becomes more than talking about goals and outcomes. How did the person work since the last time? What, in their work, made them feel content? What was frustrating and what could be a resolution?
The experience of anger within human resources
Human resource colleagues provide a key function for the business. Almost the backbone. This means dealing with employees from recruitment, onboarding, staying, ensuring retention, and departure. Some will be fine, and others bring issues on each part of their employee journey. And there are those who commit serious infringements of policy.
Dealing with all these issues can frustrate and lead to anger, which is natural. Directors of human resources need to ensure that colleagues have opportunities to look after themselves, chances to share and discuss difficult situations, and get the support they need from within human resources as well as other parts of the organization so that they tackle all frustrations as they occur.
Anger has always been a part of life in an organization. It is now more acceptable to speak about it and other emotions. Let’s ensure we acknowledge our humanness and the vital role that anger and emotions have. And look after each other.
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