Desk rage on the rise

August 13, 2008

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One of my co-workers always ends her e-mails with a profound one-liner. Her current gem is: Events are less important than our response to them.

My immediate reaction to these words of wisdom was also a one-liner: Truer words were never spoken.

Life is a continual learning process. A lesson that we can't learn too early is that while we can't control everything that happens to us—in our personal lives or at work—we can control how we react. I think it's high time people begin to accept responsibility for their reactions and temper them as necessary—especially now that desk rage is on the rise.


Desk rage is a new term for me. I first ran across it in a Reuter's item, "Get out of the way, road rage, here comes desk rage," posted on South Africa's The Times.

The article reported that nearly half of U.S. workers said they experienced shouting and verbal abuse on the job. One-sixth reported property damage. A tenth reported physical violence and fear their workplace might not be safe.

The article went on to say that "anger in the workplace—employees and employers who are grumpy, insulting, short-tempered, or worse— is surprisingly common and probably growing as Americans cope with the woes of rising costs, job uncertainty, and overwhelming debt, experts say."

According to Paul Spector, professor of industrial and organizational psychology at the University of South Florida, "'[Anger in the workplace] runs the gamut from plain rudeness to pretty abusive behavior. The severe cases of fatal violence get a lot of press, but in some ways, [other expressions of anger are] more insidious, because they affect millions of people.'"

Also quoted in the article was John Challenger, head of Chicago's Challenger, Gray & Christmas workplace consultants, who explained why desk rage is on the rise. "People are coming to work after a long commute, sitting in traffic watching their discretionary income burn up. They're ready for a fight, or just really upset."

Challenger suggested that financially strapped workers have had to cut back on paying for personal pastimes that might serve as an antidote to work pressures. They return to work after a weekend in which they haven't been able to let off steam.

Now, here's a truly alarming statistic. Spector said his research has found that 2 percent to 3 percent of people admit to pushing, slapping, or hitting someone at work. "With roughly 100 million people in the U.S. work force, that's three million people."

Rachelle Canter, a workplace expert and social psychologist, said the worst offenders are overachievers.

"'The usual profile is Type A, really smart, with impossibly high standards they set for themselves as well as for others. They are so invested, maybe over-invested, in success and in everyone being every bit as driven as they are that they lose their sense of perspective, and they can lash out at other people,' said Canter, author of Make the Right Career Move. "

"But desk rage extends across industry and class lines, and firms pay dearly in terms of lost productivity, sagging morale, and higher absenteeism, Spector said.

"The worst cases end in violence. 'Somebody didn"t just come to work one day and shoot somebody. There's probably been a pattern leading up to it.'"

OK people. We're supposed to be a civilized society, but it would appear from this information that we are becoming less so.

Each of us is responsible for our behavior. When a co-worker or family member becomes abusive, does that mean we have to react in an abusive manner? Does reacting in kind solve or escalate the problem?

When faced with desk rage, remind yourself of yet another one-liner: Let cooler heads prevail. Try to think before responding instead of reacting from the primal part of your brain that thinks too little. Help solve desk rage by reacting in a sane, sensible manner.

I know & it's easier said than done.



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Vicki Bell

Web Content Manager
FMA Communications Inc.
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