Rebels, Criticizers, Backstabbers, and Busybodies : Anger and Aggression at Work

By Johnson, Pamela R.; Indvik, Julie | Public Personnel Management, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

Rebels, Criticizers, Backstabbers, and Busybodies : Anger and Aggression at Work


Johnson, Pamela R., Indvik, Julie, Public Personnel Management


There is an age-old business adage that says "85 percent of a manager's success comes from the ability to deal with people." While dealing with a department full of different personalities is an on-going challenge, the changing nature of work has made working with people a much more complex problem. Some companies are fraught with stress, tension, anxiety, and low morale. Those factors can foster employees' feelings of helplessness, rage, despair, and anger. As a result, workers act out in a myriad of ways. Unresolved behavioral problems can turn into financial losses when angry employees turn into litigious employees. This paper will discuss the background leading to these problems, characteristics of disruptive employees, the changing nature of the law, employment practices liability insurance, and what employers can do to help.

Most of us have experienced workplace problems at one time or another. And, most have noted that management is often part of the problem, by being oblivious to it, by contributing to it, or by groping in the dark for solutions.[1] These workplace problems come as a result of the changing nature of work. Where employees once worked between nine and five, they are now expected to work 50, 60, or more hours a week in order to help their organizations exist and thrive in the global economy. Yet, raises have not kept pace with inflation, and while many employees love their work, they hate their jobs. As a result of this dissatisfaction, work problems abound in organizations. This paper will discuss the background leading to these problems, characteristics of disruptive employees, the changing nature of the law, employment practices liability insurance, and what employers can do to help.

Background

There is an age-old business adage that says "85 percent of a manager's success comes from the ability to deal with people."[2] While dealing with a department full of different personalities is an on-going challenge, the changing nature of work has made working with people a much more complex problem. Some companies are fraught with stress, tension, anxiety, and low morale. Those factors can foster employees' feelings of helplessness, rage, and despair.[3] In addition, job insecurity is up, working hours are up, and the overall perception of stress at work is up. Overwhelming workloads, poor social environments at work, conflicting or uncertain expectations, and loss of control over the amount of work because of computerization all lead to stress.[4]

Not surprisingly, some employees have become so alienated that they feel no loyalty or attachment to their organization. It has become commonplace for interpersonal difficulties, often between supervisors and workers, to interfere with productive and healthy work environments. Because employees feel overworked and underappreciated, workplace behavioral problems are omnipresent, not isolated events. However, difficult employees are usually not inept, unproductive, or disloyal. They do not need to be fired or put on notice. Often they are the smartest, most productive members of the team. However, their business behavior is often annoying, often troublesome, and if left unchecked, can be disruptive or damaging to the organization.[5]

Keep in mind that there are productive disruptive employees, and then there are unproductive disruptive employees, who are not bad enough to fire, but who are not good enough to keep. Thus, the employer thinks the employee's work is mediocre and feels ripped off.[6] Fewer areas are as troubling in the day-to-day function of departments as managing long-term employees who are marginal performers.[7]

One of the most significant reasons there is so much anger and frustration in the workplace is the end of lifetime employment and job security. Even civil service and military positions, once known as cradle-to-grave jobs, are being reengineered out of existence. Downsizing, restructuring, and reengineering are turning workplaces upside-down, which makes workers frustrated, scared, and angry. …

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