NEWS: Harbouring anger at work ‘as bad for health as stress’, says expert

Buttoning up or repressing feelings of anger or vulnerability at work is wreaking havoc with our health and on the colleagues around us, an expert has said.

It follows a survey which found that 42 percent of workers said they would have difficulty telling colleagues their behaviour had upset or annoyed them. Thirty three per cent said they would not even attempt a conversation.

Twenty two percent said they had an unhealthy relationship with their physical health, including poor sleep and over-reliance on stimulants to cope.

“If you can’t express a feeling it has to go one of two ways,” Julian Hall, founder of the “emotional resilience” consultancy Calm People told Safety Management. “Either it is stuffed down so deeply you think it’s not going to come out which isn’t true. Or it will build up and build up and come out normally as an inappropriate expression of feelings in the workplace, such as breaking down crying in the office or getting angry and throwing a stapler round the room.”

‘Storing up’ negative feelings at work can lead to ill health. Photograph: iStock

More seriously, ‘storing up’ negative feelings can also result in physical ill health conditions linked more commonly to stress, including heart attacks, strokes, immune system breakdowns and skin complaints. “It’s not just stress that fuels ill health at work, it’s all about hurt, anger and shame.”

Hall, who trained at the British Association of Anger Management before founding his consultancy, advises how firms can encourage their staff to express feelings towards others in constructive ways to prevent the toxic impacts.

“First of all you need to stick to the facts, as we often bring our opinions and judgments of other people into it and that fuels the conflict. The other thing we ask people to do, is to give an impact statement – to say ‘this is how it’s impacted me’, and then ask people how they would like to be treated.

“Very often what people do is they do not explain what they’re feeling and then eventually they go sick and maybe they raise a claim of bullying – the first question HR are going to say is, ‘why did you not say before?’ And it’ll be ‘I didn’t think I could’ and they’ve been storing up problems.”

He said that being more open at work isn’t about being ‘New Age’: “It doesn’t mean we have to turn into Hessian shirt wearing hippies. It just means we have to have a healthy relationship to feelings, acknowledge them and accept they’re there for a reason and we have to work with them rather than push them away.”

Calm People’s survey was of around 350 staff as part of a project to assess the emotional health of a very large organisation.

It follows a recent report which found that a ‘toxic feud’ between rival surgeons at St George’s hospital in London had fueled high death rates in the cardiac unit where they worked.

Staff in the report had said that they “felt that poor performance was inevitable due to the pervading atmosphere”.