Beyond Anxiety and Sadness lies Anger – Leaders Must Prepare

By Heather Campbell

Out for my daily exercise recently, I was running along a footpath with a wide grass verge. I wasn’t alone in my quest for fresh air and that all-important opportunity to get outside in the midst of lockdown. Most people I passed moved to one side, while I stepped on to the (thankfully, traffic-free) road, to maintain ample social distancing. We acknowledged one another’s gesture with a smile or a wave.

One couple, however, simply continued along the path without changing position at all, while I ended up almost at the centre of the road to maintain the required distance. And, to add insult to injury, they completely ignored my action. I felt an immediate flash of anger which lingered for some time while I fumed inwardly about the selfishness and lack of consideration ‘of some people.’

We have all lived through the huge initial shock that Covid-19 brought to our workplaces. The impact of lockdown has created plenty of scope for heightened emotion and there’s been lots written about anxiety, fear and sadness. But anger is emerging, and it can be a far more toxic emotion.

Right now, many of the examples of anger I am hearing about relate to furloughed vs non-furloughed employees.

In those organisations where some people have been furloughed and others not, there is dissatisfaction on both sides – individuals who have been furloughed are expressing concerns that their jobs matter less than others, or that they are dispensable; those who have not been furloughed feel they have had unfair pressure put on them while their colleagues have ‘an extended holiday’.

Some are asking for bonuses as a sign of appreciation for their extra effort whilst others feel the brunt of reduced income.

In the UK, there’s a lot of anger about lack of PPE in the NHS and care sector. More widely, however, there is anger in other workplaces about inadequate opportunity for suitable social distancing when carrying out duties; and, in some cases, employees being asked to source their own PPE without guidance as to the appropriate quality required.  

As the novelty of home-working passes, frustration about lack of communication is mounting as is a sense of isolation for many.

I’m hearing leaders refer to this emerging anger as simply an obvious part of the grief curve, and it’s easy to understand why. After the initial shock wears off, anger is the next inevitable stage in the grieving process, right?

But that over-simplifies this complex emotion and its causes. It also means leaders risk overlooking key steps they can take to minimise anger in their workplace and to effectively support the people they lead.

Much of the anger that is emerging now is not about grief; it’s about feeling that our needs and expectations are being unfairly or unreasonably overlooked. I wasn’t grieving when I got angry with the couple walking along the pavement. I was angry because (1) they didn’t move and (2) they didn’t acknowledge the effort I made. Double-dose of unfair and unreasonable behaviour.

As workforces across the globe emerge from lockdown, there will be many instances where people feel that their needs have been unfairly or unreasonably ignored. Individuals will be hyper-aware of the impact of every decision their leaders make.

If leaders are to help individuals settle into the ‘new normal’, confidence and skill in helping them work through anger will be essential.

If you would like to discover key steps that you can take to minimise anger in your workplace, and to support people through it, join our webinar on Wednesday 13th May,12 noon (BST).

We will explore: 

  • How leaders are inadvertently increasing anger in the workplace right now
  • How to recognise anger before it becomes a problem
  • The key steps leaders can take to minimise anger in the workplace
  • How best to support people who are angry


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