Skip to main content

You are probably familiar with the term “road rage.” It’s defined as violent anger caused by the stress and frustration involved in driving a motor vehicle. Now “desk rage” – lashing out at others in response to something stressful on the job – is becoming increasingly common.

resilience, stress management, resilient, emotions, leadership skills

According to the Emotional Incidents in the Workplace Survey, intense frustration is frequently experienced on the job:

  • 60% of all workers have seen their boss yell at someone
  • 42% of workers have witnessed the verbal abuse of another coworker
  • 41% of women have cried at work (compared to only 9% of men)
  • 29% admit to yelling at another coworker
  • 14% have witnessed someone purposely damage company equipment

Some desk-ragers scream, curse, trash office equipment, or assault others. But desk rage can also manifest as a slow boil that leads to gossiping at the water cooler, backstabbing, poor productivity, abusing sick days, stealing supplies or becoming irritable or depressed. Some people simply get fed up, stop communicating, put on a headset and emotionally “check out.”

Getting Emotional at Work

Whether it’s losing your temper or a flood of tears at an inopportune time, it’s not uncommon for emotions to get out of control faster than you can manage them at work. I have coached numerous leaders whose emotions have got the best of them in a professional setting.

Whether or not you admit to getting too emotional at work yourself, you know that it happens daily (to someone). Is it always a bad thing? Not at all. In some cases, it is the absolute best thing you might do. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has done it — openly. “I’ve cried at work,” she said in a recent speech at Harvard Business School.

We are all human and crying at appropriate moments is healthy. If the reason for the tears is shared by those around you — the death of a well-liked colleague, for instance — then a few tears are entirely acceptable. Displaying emotions at work doesn’t necessarily signal that you’re unprofessional or weak. It can express a vulnerability and authenticity that strengthens rather than diminishes you in the eyes of your coworkers.

It’s tough to be vulnerable at work, especially if you’re trying to make a great impression, compete for a promotion, or prove that your boss made a great choice in hiring you. It’s hard to admit that you’re affected by emotions like grief, fear, or sadness. And most people report feeling embarrassed after crying at work. By getting upset, they feel like they gave up their power, control, and dignity and that others will now view them as some irrational, emotional mess.

If you’re getting emotional at work too frequently (or getting violent), you can easily damage important relationships. Executive presence signals to the world that you have what it takes to be a leader. It consists of gravitas (how you act), communication (how you speak) and appearance (how you look). Senior leaders report that getting too emotional at work detracts from executive presence.

Getting Help

Numerous studies show that work is by far the primary source of stress for American adults and that it has escalated progressively over the past few decades. When the stakes are high, certain nervous system responses get automatically triggered and extreme emotions, such as crying or angry outbursts, can result.

When you become angry, your body “floods” with a rush of adrenaline and other stress hormones that stay elevated in your bloodstream for at least two hours. These hormones interfere with your ability to think straight, so if something else happens to frustrate you within that two-hour window, you’re less equipped to deal with it.

Getting overly emotional (or violent) at work is ultimately self-destructive. When others get hurt, the person exhibiting the rage always ends up losing. The potential damage: embarrassment, guilt, even losing your job.

You can learn to better manage your emotions. It’s a good idea to identify the underlying source of your stress and make some positive changes. Visit this page for 8 tips on getting a grip on your emotions at workClick here for 4 practical ways to maintain your composure on your worst day.

Dr. Stefani Yorges

I am a psychologist and professional leadership coach. I partner with people who want to rise to their full potential so they can have an increasingly greater impact on others.

Sign up now to get inspiration in your inbox!