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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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