Dealing with feelings Featured

9:49am EDT July 22, 2002

The headline on a recent newspaper article said that many people want to sock a co-worker. Coupled with what appears to be an escalation in workplace violence, I admit I wasn’t too surprised.

According to the research, one employee in six said that in the past year, they had wanted to punch a co-worker. The numbers were even higher for people under age 35, especially those working in clerical, office and sales positions.

The survey, conducted by the Gallup organization, included 750 workers over the age of 18.

In a similar survey conducted one year ago, 42 percent said they were often “at least a little angry” at work. This year the number increased to 49 percent — nearly half of those polled.

The Marlin Co., which publishes and markets motivational, educational and safety materials, commissioned the study. Said Frank Kenna, the company’s president: “This is a serious problem for people who manage any of these people. Their ability to recognize and deal with anger and potentially violent behavior is absolutely critical.”

I remembered an incident about a year ago at an assembly plant. Someone had scheduled a group of people to meet with me at a time that was apparently too close to the shift change. Only one employee showed up — and he was angry. The first words out of his mouth were, “You don’t want to talk to me, dude. I hate this (expletive deleted) place!” Then he added, “Sometimes I want to get my gun and blow my (expletive deleted) supervisor away.”

I figured that since we were both being paid for the time, I was going to get him to talk. During the entire interview, he never looked at me once, and I remained “dude.”

But in the next few minutes, he revealed some interesting information. He said his supervisor often cussed him out and treated him like dirt. “Just like my old man,” he said. “He croaked a few years ago. Good riddance.

“He used to beat on me all the time when I was a kid,” he continued. “No matter how I tried, that old (expletive deleted) never gave me any credit for anything. He said I was a waste of good spit!”

Thinking it might be a good time to change the subject, I asked what he would like to do if he didn’t have to work. His response was quick.

“Oh, me and my buddy are gonna take our motorcycles and go out West. We’re going live in Arizona, New Mexico. Man, we’ll just ride all day long!”

Since I was somewhat familiar with the area, we talked about that part of the country. His anger faded as he talked about some of the places he had seen on his last visit. He became a different person, a person you could easily learn to like.

As he left, he stuck out his hand. “Nice talking to you, dude,” he said. As he reached the door, he turned slowly and added, “You know, this ain’t such a bad place to work. I’ve seen worse.”

The research presented in the article pointed out that 64 percent of those surveyed said that at least part of their frustration was because their equipment frequently malfunctioned. These same people expressed dissatisfaction because they felt their co-workers wasted an average of 75 minutes a day on computer games, personal calls and e-mail.

My advice to you, as leaders and managers, is this: Get to know your people. Show them they are important to you and to the organization.

My own research has shown that more than 50 to 60 percent of your people don’t need direct supervision if their equipment is functioning properly and they have a steady work flow.

By investing a little of your time getting to know your people and eliminating the root causes of their dissatisfaction, you’ll make significant improvements in reducing stress and improving performance. At the same time, you will greatly enhance the value of the person.

William Armstrong, a management consultant for nearly 30 years, is president of Armstrong/Associates, a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm. Reach him at (412) 276-7396 or via e-mail at armassoc@fyi.net.