Desk rage: angry and violent outbursts at work

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Desk rage: angry and violent outbursts at work

A recent British survey maintains that 48% of workers suffer from desk rage.

Similar to road rage, desk rage is defined as a meltdown at work which may result in a violent act such as throwing office supplies or destroying office equipment. On this side of the pond, a study by the International Labor Organization (ILO) found that Canadian health workers are more likely to be assaulted in their workplace than American health workers. In fact, Canada ranks number four in the world for workplace violence.

With more people feeling more stressed about increasing workloads and job uncertainty, work rage is on the rise. A trigger could be something as random as a dirty cup of coffee or a jammed printer. Regardless of where the outburst is really coming from, it needs to be addressed as soon as it happens.

Here are some tactics that will help you diffuse the situation if you are a witness to workplace rage:

Be calm. Raising your voice to match the raging person’s level of noise will only serve to raise the level of stress. If the person needs to quiet down just to hear what you are saying, you will soon have control over the outburst. Approach the situation with an understanding ear as this is someone desperate to be heard, who won’t stop until listened to.

Telling someone to calm down usually has the reverse effect. Let the person finish what they are saying. Maintain eye contact, but do not respond until the person has calmed down. Most people who rage are looking for a reaction and when they don’t get it they are eventually forced to take a calmer approach.

Do not accept the violent behaviour. People will continue to behave inappropriately if they get away with it. If the inappropriate behavior continues, do not engage your angry co-worker. State that you no longer wish to talk to them until they calm down and then walk away. Be calm, firm, and consistent every time.

Talk to your manager or HR. This situation can affect you and your team’s productivity. It is important that you ask for the help of your manager or HR to help deal with the situation.

Get outside help. If at any time you’re concerned that the person raging may be a security threat to co-workers or themselves contact the appropriate authorities right away. However, if there is no risk of harm, you may choose to reach out to a counsellor as part of your organization’s Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) to discuss the situation.

A healthy workplace is one where people leaders and employees are easily able to identify negative behaviour. If you project calm, you can expect calm. Projecting a level-headed attitude will entice others to follow.

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