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Who is More Dangerous? An Angry Employee or a Dis-Engaged Employee?

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Anger is a natural emotional response to a situation an employee can no longer endure (for whatever reason).  I’ve heard a therapist describe anger as a “beacon for change.”  So anger is a natural, normal human emotion.  The key issue is what fuels the anger.  A manager?  A lack of integrity in the organization? A situation of unfairness, bias, or favoritism?

Someone can be angry because they are a person of great integrity and they are reacting to unethical behavior.  We tend to pathologize anger, when instead we should be more curious about the cause.  Virtually all human behavior makes sense in context — we just typically do not have the time or skills to dig under the surface to find out what the context (cause) is that has contributed to the anger response.  As an aside, there is interesting research that indicates “negative” managers can actually be better leaders.  Struck me as odd (and unexpected), but there it is.

So I am going to say that the question, while straight forward and sincere, is impossible to answer “correctly.” Anger could be a source of engagement or a symptom of disengagement. It could be a by-product of disengagement, but even here we need to be more careful.  In a literal sense, an employee is not angry due to “disengagement” because that state of mind is the result of specific actions/events/processes (or a lack of same) in the organization.  Focus too deeply on the generalized “disengagement” and you’ll likely completely miss the true problem.

What is dangerous? Misunderstanding anger; a lack of curiosity from managers to understand root causes; and not understanding the fundamental needs of human beings that must be met in the workplace in order to let engagement flourish.  A disengaged employee is usually an outcome or result of an action/inaction in the organization (ranging from culture to managers) — not because the employee is flawed or “broken” in some way.

Managers that blame employees for disengagement are most certainly dangerous to the organization’s culture.

BEST PRACTICES TIP:  Think of anger as a “beacon for change,” and not simply an unprofessional outburst.  Encourage managers to be more curious and less judgmental.

Note:  This post was originally published on LinkedIn.

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The following comments are for Engagient's Employee Engagement Seminar for Managers

We needed to communicate the value of fully engaged employees to our managers and supervisors, and without a doubt, Engagient’s seminar on Employee Engagement clearly told the story. Our entire management staff now understands the value to our business in having a fully engaged workforce. Engagient made sure we had the necessary tools to move forward and we now believe this will help us differentiate ourselves against our competitors.

Don’s delivery is exceptionally engaging, straight forward, and in my experience one of the best facilitators/presenters I’ve worked with. Our junior and mid-level managers were engaged the entire day and they are definitely now on-board with our new initiative. He did an exceptional job in framing the issues, and he was able to link it closely with our company’s core values on this topic.

--Dave Maresca
VP, Administration & Business Development
Perfect Plastic Printing
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