You know this kind of boss — the screamer, the door slammer, the pointing finger. Maybe you’ve had the misfortune of working for such a person and watched haplessly as your job performance withered and frustration level rose.
Now a university researcher has come up with a novel theory about what causes supervisors — and co-workers, too — to lash out at others in the workplace and what you can do about it. The reasons for the outbursts may surprise you.
Start with the annoyances that pile up every day inside the office and out: the driver who cuts you off in traffic, waiting on hold for a half hour to order flowers for your wife’s birthday. These are triggers for anger, which people “self-regulate” or regularly absorb without resorting to an outburst, said Stephen Courtright, assistant professor of management at Texas A&M University, who compares the coping mechanism to exercising a muscle.
Work the muscle long enough without rest and soreness results, Courtright said, which is a way to think about what he calls “ego depletion” — losing the ability to regulate one’s emotions at stressful times.
Supervisor or subordinate or co-worker, ego depletion opens the door to outbursts because the coping mechanism for anger triggers is exhausted.
Fortunately, there are some simple fixes.
“Ego depletion — it’s something that can be replenished over time: a good night’s sleep, engaging in recreation, mindfulness activities,” he said. “If you are experiencing anger in the workplace, strategically choose things to regain control in order to control anger.”
Unfortunately for targets of such abuse, the options may be more limited. Looking for another job may be the only way out if such behavior is tolerated in the workplace.
About 14 percent of employees in the U.S. are victims of nonphysical aggression at work, research has shown.
And the costs are high: corporations lose about $23.8 billion annually in lost productivity, grievance procedures and health care costs from abusive supervisors and related behaviors, according to a 2007 study.
Understanding the dynamics can lend insight into the behavior of co-workers. It may boil down to how well one juggles conflict outside the office.
Simply put, conflict at home taxes the emotional stamina needed to absorb everyday conflicts outside the home, which can lead to mental fatigue and abusive behavior at work.