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Published: Tuesday, 8/31/2010

Experts urge firms to help workers cope with anger


Many companies won't hand out raises or bonuses this year. Many will ask their employees to do extra work to pick up the slack for colleagues who have been laid off.

So at a certain point, managers should expect employee rage to spill over into the workplace, some experts warn. Even without the high drama of JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater's exit, workplace anger is more prevalent during an economic downturn, and employers can take steps to help their workers cope, experts in work-force training say.

"Cost-cutting has led to a reduction in team size, but the expectations by management for employees and the work per employee has not decreased along with size. If anything, it has increased. This inverse relationship between layoffs and work expectations adds significant pressure to already challenged and stretched workers," said Peter Handal, chief executive officer of Dale Carnegie Training in Hauppauge, N.Y.

He suggests firms regularly gauge workers' attitudes through surveys or by set open-door policies so employees can provide managers with feedback.

"Failure to monitor the discontent … means companies are running the risk of … missed productivity and dissatisfaction or public outbursts," Mr. Handal said.

When an employee starts to feel stressed, the firm needs to have resources available for discussing concerns without repercussions, said Janet Pfeiffer, author of The Secret Side of Anger.

"One of the biggest complaints from employees is that they feel overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated," she said. "Many of them consider the workplace environment to be somewhat hostile and abusive. …"

With sensitivity training, managers can "be sensitive to a feeling an employee has even if they don't agree with it, or believe the complaint is unfounded," she said.

Conflict-resolution training can help managers assist employees struggling with issues within themselves or with colleagues. For workers, she suggests training to help sort out their emotions before they get angry. "The No. 1 thing is not to take someone else's bad behavior personally. … You need to be objective and emotionally detached," she said.

Ms. Pfeiffer has provided on-site training sessions in anger management to clients such as AT&T, Carnival Cruise Lines, the U.S. Army, and the U.S. Postal Service.

She teaches the stressed or overwhelmed to assess the situation, formulate a plan of action, and ask for help if needed. In the JetBlue incident, for instance, Mr. Slater could have "asked another flight attendant for help because he wasn't making any headway" with passengers.

Ms. Pfeiffer said that imitating Mr. Slater has risks. "We need to send a clear message that this type of behavior is not acceptable and will not be tolerated."

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Joyce Gannon is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.

Contact her at jgannon@post-gazette.com.

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