Unmanaged Anger Sabotages Your Career

By Charles H. Elliott, Laura L. Smith, W. Doyle Gentry

Not only can anger rob you of energy and end up making you sick, it can also drastically affect your career — and not in ways you want.

Once, a 35-year-old unemployed man called in to a syndicated talk show that offered career advice, telling the host that he needed advice on how to get a good job. The host asked him about his educational background — he was a college grad — and inquired about his last job. He described what sounded like a pretty good job as a town administrator in a small community.

“How long did that job last?” the host asked.

“About 18 months, and then I quit,” said the fellow.

“Why did you quit?” the host asked.

“They wouldn’t give me the big raise I felt I deserved so I got mad and resigned,” was the answer.

“And what did you do before that?” the host asked.

“Same thing — city administrator for another small community.”

“How long were you at that job?” the host inquired.

“I think about two years, but again they wouldn’t meet all my demands so I got mad and quit.”

The conversation continued until the caller had described six good jobs since he graduated from college, all of which he had left in anger.

Finally, the host said, “I get the picture, but I think you’re wrong about what your problem is. Your problem isn’t how to get a good job. You’ve had six. Your problem is your inability to control your temper whenever your employer either can’t or won’t give you exactly what you want.”

The man was furious, shouting, “You don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m not the problem. They are. You’re not giving me any help here.” Then he hung up. Obviously, what had started out as a highly promising career was now stalled and heading down the toilet — fast.

Following are some other ways in which anger can sabotage your career.

Not finishing your education

In today’s world, more than ever before, if you hope to succeed at work, you need an education. Without an education, your choices are extremely limited, and you’ll be lucky if you get what amounts to back-breaking, low-paying, here-today-gone-tomorrow jobs.

What does this have to do with anger? Well, it turns out that men and women who were ill tempered as children and adolescents drop out of school before they graduate from high school a lot more often than even-tempered youngsters. They enter the job market already at a distinct disadvantage and they never catch up.

Heading in the wrong direction

Most people want to have a better life than their parents and grandparents had. You want to make more money, have more creature comforts, drive a bigger car, live in a bigger house, wear more expensive clothes, eat in better restaurants, take more elaborate vacations — and those are the incentives that may spur you to work longer, harder, and smarter year after year.

But not everyone is following that dream. Some people are experiencing just the opposite — by the time they reach midlife, they’re actually worse off in terms of job security, job status, and income than their parents. Why? For many, the answer is anger. It turns out that easily angered people have more jobs over a lifetime, get fired or quit more often, are forced to take whatever jobs are available (instead of logically pursuing a career), and have a much more erratic employment history as compared to those who are slow to anger.

To add insult to injury, many ill-tempered adults seek out jobs that tolerate their angry outbursts as long as the job gets done. In effect, they’ve found a niche for their anger. (Unfortunately, most of these jobs are physically dangerous and low paying.)

Engaging in counterproductive work behavior

Have you ever engaged in any of the following behaviors while at work lately?

  • Come to work late without permission

  • Made fun of someone at work

  • Found yourself daydreaming rather than doing your job

  • Behaved rudely to a client or coworker

  • Refused to assist a colleague at work

  • Blamed someone else for a mistake you made

  • Tried to look busy while doing nothing

  • Taken a longer break than you were entitled to

  • Avoided returning a phone call to someone at work

  • Intentionally wasted supplies

  • Stolen something that belongs to a coworker

  • Hit or pushed someone

  • Made an obscene gesture to a coworker

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’ve engaged in what’s called counterproductive work behavior. Counterproductive work behavior is any act at work that is clearly intended to hurt the organization you work for or other employees. And which employees are most likely to engage in such behavior? The angry ones, of course.