Bad day at the office…?

We all have them, and when we do, most of us try to keep our tempers under control. But is it time to reconsider how we deal with a bad day at work? A recent study conducted by the Harvard Medical School revealed that expressing anger in the workplace is not only healthy, but can be good for your career.

The Harvard researchers, who followed 824 participants for 44 years, concluded that whilst it is important to stay in control during heated exchanges, those who remained respectful but stood their ground were more likely to move up the career ladder. The study also revealed that those who consistently repressed their frustrations at work were three times more likely to say they had reached a glass ceiling.

Research undertaken closer to home by the University of Wolverhampton’s Professor Andy Lane sheds further light on why powerful emotions like fear and anger can be harnessed to boost performance.

“The triggering of some unpleasant emotions such as anger and anxiety leads to an aroused emotional state.

Adrenaline is released and this sudden energy burst can give people an extra edge. In this state, individuals are able to direct their efforts on completing a task; they might find that being angry helps performance. Our research suggests that when people experience heightened emotions like anger, the resulting clarity and focus it gave them boosted their performance”.

We’ve all met individuals, who possess the ability to thrive under pressure or draw strength from stressful situations. Have they discovered that there’s nothing like a frisson of tension rippling through the office to trigger a performance enhancing mood swing? Certainly, many of us would feel differently about our worst days at work if they turned out to be amongst our most productive, or increased our chances of promotion. Professor Vaillant, who led the Harvard research, said:

“Careful experiments such as ours have documented that negative emotions narrow and focus attention so we can concentrate on the trees instead of the forest.”

But before we positively embrace our negative emotions at work, it is worth remembering that often the forest is important too.

Professor Andy Lane adds a note of caution: “Negative emotions can cut down the capacity of individuals to perform certain tasks. This is especially true of creative tasks, where considering a lot of information and thinking laterally is important. Anger and anxiety reduces the ability to process a lot of information or see the bigger picture.”

Findings from both sets of research are in agreement that uncontrolled fury is a destructive force. Professor Vaillant explains:

“We all feel anger, but individuals who learn how to express their anger while avoiding the explosive and self-destructive consequences of unbridled fury have achieved something incredibly powerful in terms of overall emotional growth and mental health.”

So the next time you have a less than cordial encounter with a colleague, keep your cool and remain courteous, but don’t be afraid to stand your ground – and who knows, you may earn the respect of others…or even a promotion.