Sometimes, things get too much at work. Whether the stress comes from your manager, your colleagues or the amount of work piling up on your desk, the pressure can easily bubble over.
You’re in a meeting with your boss and he asks you why you’ve not finished an administrative task yet. The job wasn’t particularly important — or time sensitive —and you’ve been on deadline, so you moved it down your to-do list. However, your manager doesn’t want to hear it.
Finally, you snap. Nothing particularly bad was said, but you wonder if it will have a lasting effect on your job at the company.
Losing your temper at work can be a problem. At best, it can make people feel uncomfortable and land you in trouble, leading to a warning or slap on the wrist. At worst, it can cost you your job or even your career.
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Anger is an emotion we can’t avoid. When we are feeling stressed or under pressure, it’s normal for the frustration to rise — and sometimes, we just can’t keep it in. So is it always unprofessional to get angry at work?
“It is human nature to display emotion, and anger is not exempt. However, there are some settings, work being one of them, where displaying anger may be considered inappropriate, and it is up to the angry party to react in a restrained manner,” says Kate Palmer, HR Advice Director at the HR, employment law and health & safety consultancy firm Peninsula.
“Employers can play their part by ensuring that employees' angry outbursts do not arise from mishandled claims, complaints of harassment, discrimination, or whistleblowing, for example.
This could also lead to tribunal claims of constructive unfair dismissal,” she adds. “Employers can’t foresee that a particular situation would lead to an outburst. They must act swiftly after the fact to defuse the situation. Eg, by holding a one-on-one with the employee to determine the reason behind their outburst.”
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Whether anger in the workplace is acceptable or not depends on the situation, as well as what is said in the heat of the moment. A worker may lose it because they have too much work on and they are feeling burned out. Someone might not normally be a combative person, but they may have upsetting or stressful personal problems on their mind, such as grief, illness, or a relationship break-up.
It’s easy to argue that employees should leave their personal problems at home, but we know that this is often impossible in reality. These factors should be taken into consideration when dealing with an outburst at work.
However, it’s never acceptable for someone to use anger as a deliberate way to intimidate or manipulate other people, which should be dealt with seriously. Name-calling or other personal attacks are never OK.
“Anger that leads to an outburst will usually not be acceptable, but ascertaining the reason or reasons behind the outburst will be essential to how it should be dealt with and what the outburst itself looked like,” Palmer says.
“The perception of how serious the employee's actions were will likely differ from one employer to another, as will its repercussions,” she adds. “For example, some outbursts may only lead to an informal verbal or written warning, but others may lead to a more formal disciplinary action.”
If you lose your temper at work, it’s important to take action to minimise the repercussions. If your anger was directed at someone, the first thing to do is apologise.
According to a 2016 study by conflict management expert Roy Lewicki, academic Beth Polin, and Robert Lount, effective apologies have six parts. You need to express regret, explain what went wrong, acknowledge responsibility, declare repentance, offer to repair the damage and ask for forgiveness.
This may sound like a lot, particularly if you only snapped at someone. But apologising effectively is about being honest and sincere, which can go some way to repairing a working relationship.
It can also help to think about what may have triggered the incident and whether it is something you can work on. For example, if your workload is too much or if you need to manage your stress levels more effectively.
If you have strong relationships at work, the incident may not have a serious or lasting impact — so move on and try to return to normal, as best you can.
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