Last week, Personnel Today revealed that the job satisfaction of working women in the UK has been falling for 15 years. With new research showing women take their work stress home, what can HR to do help? Margaret Kubicek reports
The reasons for low job satisfaction among women are clear. Resentment from colleagues for flexible working and yet too few part-time opportunities at senior level, pregnancy discrimination, continuing inequality on pay – you can take your pick of issues.
Now new research into anger in the workplace could give many women cause to feel even more cynical.
A survey of 500 men and women by the British Association of Anger Management (BAAM) revealed that women get angrier at home, while their male counterparts are more likely to blow their top in the office.
With so much for women to be angry about at work, it almost seems unfair that they then take that pressure home. Are working women simply misunderstood?
Mike Fisher, founder and director of BAAM, said the findings reveal not that men are angrier at work, but simply more outwardly expressive of their anger.
Fisher, who designs anger management programmes for employers, believes women do feel anger at work, but they just sublimate it. Indeed, if anyone is angrier, it is women, he said.
“They are paid less, work harder, are better at multi-tasking – what I am aware of is that women are angry in the workplace, but it is more passive aggressive,” he said. “It does not come through in challenging a boss or colleague. Women are more sensitive to the impact aggression will have and they keep it down.”
Back at home, where that office anger too often combines with a lack of support in managing family life, the pressure becomes too much and women express anger overtly, Fisher said. It’s a case of ‘imploder and exploder’, he said, explaining that women are more likely than men to switch between the two.
There is a lot conspiring against women to keep them from displaying anger overtly, according to Barry Winbolt, head of training and consultancy at well-being adviser PPC Worldwide.
“Girls tend to be conditioned from a young age not to show anger, and women – based on what thousands of them say – also have a greater propensity to feel guilty about things in a way that men don’t,” he said.
But women should not be encouraged to ‘ape’ men’s office tantrums – far from it, cautioned Jan Parkinson, strategic director of HR for Gateshead council.
Parkinson, also president of the Society of Personnel Officers in Government Services (Socpo), said that women would gain no ‘bonus points’ by increasing their emotional output while at work.
“That would be the stereotypical view – that women are ‘more emotional’ – and you would almost play into the hands of people who do not want women to do well,” she said.
Rather than upping their emotional output in the office, female employees should be encouraged to “emulate and model the healthy expression of emotions”, said Fisher. “Men like to fix things and women like to speak about things,” he said. “Men are goal-orientated and women community-orientated.”
This may sound like something from the bestselling book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, but Winbolt argued that women must learn to value their communication skills themselves, although he admitted this was a challenge when many organisational cultures were designed by men.
Gender politics aside, there is a certain irony that for all the attention given to stress in today’s workplace, anger remains relatively overlooked.
Stress is a symptom of anger, and most organisations are in denial, not wanting to be labelled as having an anger management problem, according to Fisher. “Focusing on stress is avoiding the issue – it’s because we’re afraid of anger,” he said. “Deal with your anger, and you become less stressed.”
All too often, however, the root cause of what is perceived to be an employee’s anger problem is nothing more than poor management, Winbolt said. “In more than 50% of cases, those people have absolutely no anger problem whatsoever, it is just that they are being mismanaged and they have been made scapegoats,” he said.
Angela Baron, organisation and resourcing adviser at the CIPD, agreed. If an employee feels badly managed, it can often manifest itself as a negative reaction to work, an unwillingness to ‘go the extra mile’, she said.
The role for HR is to ensure softer skills development for managers in areas such as coaching, emotional intelligence, listening and effective team building. Organisations also need to stop burying their heads in the sand when it comes to conflict.
“They need to introduce the idea that it’s OK to have those conversations [about conflict] and teach people how to do it,” said Winbolt. “There should be a forum for discussing issues that upset people, perhaps an e-mail hotline or telephone service.”
Beyond that, HR should work on initiatives to promote the emotional welfare of staff, alongside formal policies on things like bullying and harassment.
Professional services firm KPMG, for example, has a number of well-being initiatives, including a confidential health support service and counselling services.
Krys Grudniewicz, learning and development executive at KPMG, said: “We encourage people to use the service to help manage their lifestyle and to promote mental and physical health.”
Workplace rage statistics
The survey asked 502 people – 260 women, 222 men, (20 did not specify) – who was angriest at home and at work.
- The angriest at home are men
All respondents 177
- The angriest at home are women
All respondents 324
- The angriest at work are men
All respondents 344
- The angriest at work are women
All respondents 156