Wellbeing in the workplace - the causes of, and solutions to the ‘Office Rage' phenomenon

Pressure is a normal part of working life. Whether it is caused by an increase in workload, a fast approaching deadline or a tough sales target, modern working life is synonymous with pressure.

When the demands of the office exceed an employee’s ability to cope, they become stressed. Workplace stress affects 28 percent or around 40 million workers in Europe and costs EU Member States up to €20 billion a year  in direct health costs and lost work time. In moderation, pressure can be beneficial and can increase productivity. But excessive pressure and stress can be disastrous.

Work-related stress can affect anyone, in any sector, in any size of organisation. Stress has enormous personal costs on employees, in terms of illness, fatigue, anxiety, insomnia, loss of concentration and an inability to make sound decisions. Stress also disturbs employees’ productivity and creativity.

There are strong economic and financial implications of stress at work, as a business’s productivity and profitability is largely determined by its workers. With more than half of absenteeism is attributed to stress , businesses must sit up and take notice. Employers need to identify the root causes of stress if they are to ensure that their workforce is healthy and working as effectively as possible and protect the bottom line.

‘Office rage’ strikes Europe

Heightened levels of stress can lead to anger and what’s known as ‘office rage’. Research from Canon found that ‘office rage’ is rampant throughout Europe, with only five percent of European workers saying nothing had ever made them angry at work. In fact, more than four in five workers (83 percent) had seen someone else visibly lose their temper at work, and overall almost two-thirds (63 percent) said they had visibly lost their temper at work .

The research provides an insight into the regional differences in ‘office rage’ throughout Europe. Nordic countries for example can boast Europe’s calmest workers with only 68 percent of those questioned having seen a co-worker visibly angry.  Italy on the other hand lives up to its fiery reputation with nearly all workers (94 percent) having seen someone else lose their temper at work.

Long or pointless meetings were found to be the major reason office workers lost their cool - angering half of all European office workers. By simply cutting the length and frequency of meetings, businesses can eliminate the largest factor that can spark anger in their workforce. Bad manners, a lack of support from the boss or work colleagues, office politics and poorly managed office temperatures were also found to contribute to worker anger.

Rage, anger and violence can be a product of stress.  When people can’t cope with the pressure they are under, they can strike out. It seems to be the items close to hand that are most likely to face the brunt of the office rage with desks and desk-top contents like staplers and pens most likely to be kicked or broken in anger. It doesn’t stop there however, with a striking twelve percent of those who had visibly lost their temper at work admitted kicking or breaking the office printer causing office and IT managers a headache of their own.

If managers can understand the causes of and reactions to employee stress, they can foster a calmer, more stress-free working environment.

Hi-tech stress relief

Technology has led the fight against today’s highly stressful work environment, saving time and making tasks easier to complete. Advances in technology have seen the emergence of ‘flexible working’ for example, allowing people to choose when and where they work. The availability of high-speed residential broadband and secure virtual private networks (VPNs) has enabled people to work as effectively from home as they can in the office. Personal organisers and PDAs are now affordable and commonplace, while mobile phones can be synchronised with work diaries and business email systems. In this way, powerful handheld computers enable people to manage their time and workloads better, and use time which may have been wasted such as the commute to work, more effectively.

Even the most fundamental office activities, like searching for documents on the office network, can stress-out employees. 20 percent of European workers are angered by the time taken to look for and retrieve documents on the company’s network.  While one in four (24 percent) office workers believe that fast and easy access to documents would make their office more user-friendly. Canon aims to reduce stress and rage in the workplace by helping businesses manage their information, printing and imaging more effectively. For example, Canon’s new iW360 software makes it easy for users to search, manage and create documents - even if they are working with a selection of applications or document types. By reducing stress and promoting efficiencies in printing and document management, Canon helps boost office productivity.

With increasing dependence on technology, unreliable or poor quality systems can be a source of great frustration and stress. Printer and information technology (IT) problems anger around a third of Europe’s employees (30 percent and 28 percent respectively) . Office and IT managers should select trusted and reliable imaging and IT suppliers and ensure employees are trained to use the resources.

Ch'i holds the key to a stress-free office

60 percent of European workers feel that office layout increases stress levels, with 19 percent feeling it "significantly" increased stress. This was most startling in Spain, where a staggering 79 percent of respondents felt their office layout increased levels of stress .

Dr. Simona Mainini, a Feng Shui Master said, “Stress is a by-product of our off-balanced lifestyles. You won’t necessarily increase productivity by working longer hours to tight deadlines. Creating a more balanced working environment is the way to produce the business results that employers desire.”

Stress is still not a hot issue for many firms and dealing with it is not always easy. Management or HR policies to reduce stress practice can prove difficult to implement. Small and practical steps can be a cost-effective way to create a more balanced working environment and prevent stress in the workplace. It is claimed that by correctly applying the rules of Feng Shui to an office, a business can reduce the accumulation of stress and increase productivity and revenue. To manage stress, a business must balance the yin (calm and stillness) and the yang (rampant activity) in the office. In our fast-paced modern world there isn’t much room for calm and stillness. When processes aren’t allowed to unfold naturally because of demands for productivity and rigid deadlines, workers become stressed.

Natural light, fresh air, lots of green and blue coloured walls, and a clutter free and well organised workspaces are just some of the basic steps to create a Feng Shui friendly, and stress-free office environment.

Fostering wellbeing in the workplace

Occupational psychologist Lucy Beresford said, “Without question, the office is a place of highly expressed emotion. For people to feel less stressed in the office, they need to feel more in control of their working life and working environment. Office rage is on the increase, but a range of initiatives such as crisper meetings or interpersonal kindness could in turn both reduce stress levels, and extend the life expectancy of office equipment.”

Tackling stress is all about good management. While forward-thinking companies are recognising the correlation between a healthy workforce and business performance, the majority of businesses seem to have taken the attitude that stress is not their problem to solve. Commonsense management, the implementation of appropriate technical solutions and more practical steps like limiting the length of meetings can all simplify working life.

Stress not only threatens the health of a workforce, it threatens the health of a business. Stress and anger in the workplace must be addressed if companies are to perform to their productive and profitable potential.

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