Issues of Anger in the Workplace: Do Gender and Gender Role Matter?

Article excerpt

To examine the influence of gender and gender role on anger experiences in the workplace, 257 adult students completed narratives describing their anger-provoking issues and anger expression. Seven issues were identified: work performance of coworkers, work performance of supervisors, relationships with coworkers, relationships with supervisors, dealing with the public, work performance of subordinates, and work context issues. Analyses revealed that gender did not influence the types of issues cited or workers' anger expressions. Although gender role did not influence anger expression, androgynous and feminine persons were more likely to cite relationships with coworkers as anger provoking than were undifferentiated persons.

Anger has been defined as "a strong emotion or experiential state occurring in response to a real or imagined frustration, threat, or injustice and ... the desire to terminate the negative stimulus" (Biaggio & Maiuro, as cited in Fine & Olson, 1997, p. 326). Over the past 2,300 years, Western culture has considered anger an undesirable emotion, symptomatic of irrationality, and has advocated the use of will to control its expression (Kemp & Strongman, 1994). Perhaps this view accounts for the relative dearth of research specifically pertaining to anger; far more attention has been devoted to the broad study of aggression or stress, and researchers such as Kassinove (1995) have suggested that anger remains neither well understood nor sufficiently researched.

According to contemporary statistics, one topic in need of research is anger that occurs in the context of work. A September 2000 PsycINFO literature search yielded only six citations; yet data indicate that most employees experience annoyances in the workplace at least 10 times each day and that 25% of workers experience anger in the workplace (Bensimon, 1997). Often-cited reasons for such anger include a lack of employment security, salary inequities, poor working conditions, low job control, interpersonal conflicts, worker alienation, and work harassment by supervisors and coworkers (Bensimon, 1997; Narayanan, Menon, & Spector, 1999; Neuman & Baron, 1997). Because these aversive conditions trigger physiological arousal and hostile thoughts (Neuman & Baron, 1997), frequent anger can have a deleterious effect on both physiological and psychological well-being (Clay, Anderson, & Dixon, 1993; Diong & Bishop, 1999; Fine & Olson, 1997; Martin & Watson, 1997).

Although there are more women in the workforce than formerly, few studies have examined whether gender might influence a worker's experiences with work-related anger. Historical reviews by Kemp and Strongman (1994) have found that alleged gender differences in anger are a recent phenomenon, arising from socialization practices in the 1940s and 1950s in which males were taught to express anger and females were taught to suppress it. Some contemporary research indicates this differential socialization had its impact. Among samples of school-aged children (Cox, Stabb, & Hinges, 2000) and adults ages 19-92 years (McConatha, Leone, & Armstrong, 1997), girls and women scored significantly higher in anger suppression and control, whereas boys and men scored significantly higher in anger expression. Overall, women are expecte,i to feel comfort in expressing happiness, sadness, and fear and to feel reluctance in exhibiting anger and pride; men are expected to display the obverse pattern (Kelly & Hutson-Comeaux, 1999; Plant, Hyde, Keltner, & Devine, 2000).

These gender differences are attributed to differential motivations. A woman's reluctance to express anger is associated with the expectation that negative consequences to interpersonal relationships will occur (Piltch, Walsh, Mangione, & Jennings, 1994; Timmers, Fischer, & Manstead, 1998). However, a man's expression of anger is associated with the expectation that status and power are important to maintain, and there is less concern with the consequences to relationships (Piltch et al. …