Business Today

Soothing the Angry Employee

Manasi Mithel | Print Edition: June 24, 2012

Two years ago, a senior manager at a network services company in Bangalore was making a presentation before a group of colleagues, including his boss and some senior executives. He was not on the best of terms with his boss. Around 10 minutes into the presentation, he made a pitch for additional manpower for some projects he was handling.

To everybody else's shock, soon as his boss responded, the manager picked up a chair, flung it aside and walked out of the room. What on earth possessed him? "My boss said what I was saying was all nonsense," he replies.

Warning Signs
Employees repeatedly displaying the traits noted above need help
Today he would not dream of reacting so violently. A company-sponsored two-day conversation and communication programme he underwent has changed him. "It helped me understand how to communicate in situations where the stakes are high and there is great scope for conflict," he says, insisting he stay off the record. He admits to having a dominating personality, which hates to be contradicted. But now he is able to leave chairs where they are and express his views and feelings, however strong, using words alone.

This is just one instance of how companies have been helping employees address emotional intelligence-related issues, including excessive anger, by organising workshops and programmes. Those participating are provided assessments of their personalities, face-to-face interactions with experts and oneon-one coaching.

Bhaskar Bhattacharya, an Executive Director with marketing research company Nielsen, also acknowledges that similar training helped him. Around 12 years ago, as Vice President of Learning and Development with the same organisation, he was working with a client to roll out a training project. The stakes were high and there was immense pressure to get it right. To Bhattacharya's irritation, however, a senior executive kept changing the goalposts fixed after multiple meetings. "The first few times, I couldn't figure out what was happening and I was angry," he says.


How employees' behavioural problems affect business

Britain loses 5-6 million working days annually

The US loses 31 working days per month per 100 workers due to those with mental health issues repeatedly leaving work early

UK: £4-5 billion per year due to stress related absenteeism

US: $30,000 per depressed worker per year

Source: Mental health policies and programmes in the workplace, WHO, 2005
"But my training helped and I worked things out with the executive concerned." Many companies agree inappropriate employee behaviour can be a problem. It lowers productivity, raises attrition rates, and creates an unhappy workforce. "We have not had a case where we had to seek clinical intervention, but communicating with respect is a behavioural competency which was found wanting in many executives," says Capt.

Charanjit Lehal, Assistant General Manager of Training and Development at direct broadcast satellite TV provider, Tata Sky. The cost of the programmes that address behavioural problems at work varies. "For a batch of 15 people, the total price we charge would be around Rs 3.80 lakh," says Bina Sekhar, a Bangalore-based emotional intelligence consultant, currently working with four leading information technology companies. Other trainers charge instead by the day, anything between Rs 25,000 and Rs 70,000.

The specific issue of anger management is still to be addressed adequately by many Indian companies, feels Michael Fernandes, Head of Advisory Services at leading HR company, SHRM India. "A lot of the employee-centric programmes on interpersonal relationships and team-building can be very vague," he says. Such vagueness may well affect the programmes's efficacy. He also notes that Indian companies take these problems less seriously than multinational corporations (MNCs). "MNCs are very sensitive to behavioural norms within the workplace embedded over a long period of time," he says. "Indian organisations don't rate very high on such norms. This will take time for them."

With liberalisation, Indian companies have shifted from a culture of command and control leadership - where seniors took all decisions and were rarely questioned - to one of high employee engagement. Mindsets are changing, thanks to the mass media and other influences, often sparking anger, and increasing the need for anger management. The introduction of 360-degree feedback during appraisals, where employees are reviewed not only by seniors but also by those reporting to them, has increased instances of workplace anger.

Ambereen Pradhan, Director and Promoter of Mumbai-based Energia Wellbeing, which works with companies to improve workplace performance and behaviour, identifies work-life imbalance, performance pressure and long working hours as reasons for people's fuses being shorter than before. "The feedback we get has more remarks about employees being 'rude, blunt or harsh' in their interactions with one another than before," she says. "People are getting conditioned to expressing themselves angrily."

Symptoms of such anger if left unchecked can lead to serious psychological and physiological problems like depression, bipolar disorders, high blood pressure, cardiac problems, gastroenteritis and diabetes. The company in turn also suffers.

Pradhan's firm is currently trying to help a senior executive with a 'passive-aggressive' personality: he is impulsive, easily provoked and hostile to suggestions. "Many of us can identify with these personality traits but it becomes a serious matter if such traits start multiplying," she says.

The executive would lose his temper and self control so completely at work that people feared he was having a heart attack. He was asked by his boss to seek professional help or else quit. "HR heads are realising that this is not a one-off problem," Pradhan adds.

Anger has been linked to serotonin, a chemical in the brain. A study by Cambridge University researchers in 2011, published in Journal of Biological Psychiatry, showed how low serotonin levels make it difficult for the brain to control anger. Serotonin levels can fall when a person is stressed or has not been eating enough. There is need for healthy lifestyle habits as well to combat workplace anger.

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