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Can you legislate anger out of a workplace?

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Question: "Our HR department is thinking of levying a policy that would discipline an employee for ‘raising his or her voice in anger’ when involved in a verbal exchange inside the office. Some here say it’s high time that hotheads learn to debate respectfully so as not to poison the atmosphere, but this seems to reach too far to control worker behavior. I’d love to know what others think before I vote on the policy!” — Cassandra, Accounts Payable Specialist

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Marie September 27, 2012 at 6:47 pm

My boss is abusive no matter what volume he speaks at. I dread opening emails in the morning because he is demeaning in emails too.

Following a sexual harassment complaint which resulted in three EEOC federal investigations for gender discrimination, harassment and retaliation. The EEOC found I had cause to complain on all complaints filed but they did not fire my boss.

He is still retaliating and my employer started an investigation for my boss being abusive and so aggressive that he is not only interfering with my work but he is so disruptive that he is creating so much tension for corners in my office, that they leave the room and tell me things like they are afraid to get up from their desk when he is in our office. My coworkers say that they wish my boss would be a lot nicer when he talks to me.

The first day after the investigation, my boss started answering my questions with words like “obviously” said in front of others. He is creating so much stress. His body posturing is aggressive.

The policies are only words on paper. They are not enforced. Since 2009, I go home each day thinking I survived one more day. Retaliation and bullying are allowed even though policies exist that do not condone his behavior.

This is why I think a policy on volume may be worthless when loud aggression is acceptable behavior by virtue of nothing being done to stop it.

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Dora September 26, 2012 at 9:45 am

I think what a lot of people might be missing here is that the policy the questioner is speaking of specifically mentions voices raised “in anger”, not just loud talking. This to me has a very specific intention, which is to defuse anger, not people with naturally loud voices, and those are two very different things. A tough policy to enforce, but it’s definitely not lumping in everyone with a volume problem….. also there is no mention of firing, just discipline.

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Ingrid September 25, 2012 at 4:22 am

It should be part of the company’s code of conduct. And I think it should be handled with care.

I think the HR-department and line managers can decrease the anger & shouting at the workplace better in an alternative way instead of adding another rule or policy.

And they should focus on the root cause.

Paper will not stop them, action will.
In my experience has HRM, I am convinced it all starts and ends with clear and constructive communication.

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DeeCee September 24, 2012 at 5:07 pm

This could be very hard to regulate. Raising one’s voice doesn’t necessarily mean anything bad, and who is to be the judge of how much is too much? If you used that against one person, then you would have to be equally strict with everyone else. I think there can be some policies on self-restraint and discipline, but it would probably have to cover more than just a raised voice. I think overall demeanor would have to be considered, and probably a warning or notice given to someone that they are approaching the limit. Again, this would have to be equally applied to all persons.

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Mia September 21, 2012 at 12:34 pm

I agree with Marie. There are already policies in place (sometimes too many) but what good are they if management does not enforce them. Most of us don’t like confrontation but if your in management that comes with the territory. Management should, and that is the key word, handle these issues before they get out of hand. Maybe HR should write up the manager if they do not address these issue in a timely manner and include that in a policy! And by the way I have never heard of staff voting on policies either.

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Pam H. September 21, 2012 at 9:43 am

If raising your voice would be enough to get an individual fired, everyone in our office would all be gone. Not that we rant and rave at one another, but our director talks so loudly on the phone, that I can hear her converation 2 doors down the hallway, with an airconditioning system blowing continuously. The individual across the hall from me speaks loudly when talking to new applicants. I have to deal with collection, and sometimes get very frustrated with individuals who argue about their account or balance owed. Loudness by nature doesn’t necessarily mean anger or violence. I have had to learn to talk more quietly as I have grown older because I grew up in a “loud” family. It took me a while to realize that I could do something about the volume of my voice. Anger, violence, profanity, agression, intimidation, etc. can be policed. I am not sure that “loudness” or volume can be. Maybe there should be more instruction of helping the individuals lower their volume, and how to communicate in moments of stress or anger.

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Min September 21, 2012 at 8:27 am

Our similar policy would be one that is “disruptive to the productive work environment”. It states it will not tolerate verbal or physical conduct by any employee, which harasses, disrupts or interferes with another’s work performance or which creates an intimidating, offensive or hostile environment.

That may not be the same as what you are referring to as far as “loud voices” in your question, but it has been enforced if employees have gotten in a verbal altercation in front of other employees while they are working.

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Gloria September 21, 2012 at 7:52 am

I don’t see how they can regulate that. It sounds like they would be opening themselves up to potential law suits. At what level would someone consider raising your voice hostile? Its not as clear cut as some would think. Some people have a naturally loud speaking voice. In another situation, one person might think someone raised their voice while another will think they didn’t. Its far too open to interpretation. I can understand not allowing someone to yell while ranting, raving, insulting, abusing, name calling, belittling, etc employees and coworkers. That can be documented and proven. But, raising your voice?

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Debbie September 21, 2012 at 7:27 am

I agree with the other comments that loud voices don’t make a hostile environment. However, in a professional working atomosphere, there should always be a certain expectation as to how each employee handles oneself in an angry situation. We all get angry but should deal with issues in a professional manner. Swearing, getting in peoples faces, humiliation, should not be tolerated. To write a policy on respect in the workplace would be a far better choice and would be easier to enforce. There are too many personalities that can easily be pushed over the edge and could very easily lead to violence. We see it all too often in the news.

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Janice September 21, 2012 at 6:19 am

This seems to me to be an infringement on the first amendment. It is very subjective as well. Some people naturally have loud voices that carry. It doesn’t mean they are yelling. Instead when someone thinks another person’s tone is out of hand, they should coach them on how to better present their point. HR should invest in training on how to effectively communicate versus trying to curb free speech.

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Marie September 20, 2012 at 11:29 pm

A policy is meaningless unless is is enforced. Example: The policy says sexual harassment and retaliation will not be tolerated. An employee files a complaint. The boss retaliates and action ensues that demonstrate the policies are just some words on paper and nothing more. When management either does nothing to enforce policy or turns a blind eye to the facts, those words on paper are meaningless and impotent. Meaningless policies expose companies to grievances, and potential law suits.

Every employee deserves to work in a reasonable environment without retaliation, hostility, bullying, screaming, and negatively aggressive coworkers and bosses.

Management should manage and lead. If they resort to yelling and aggresive behavior toward other workers, they should be reprimanded immediately but in private and sent to a class on anger management.

If the employee improves wonderful, but if they continue to create a hostile environment, then fire them. These people are disruptive and create toxic environments where people become less interested in working together for results and creative ideas and more interested in just surviving the day. The toll these types of employees take on everyone else’s live’s and the company’s goals and bottom line are not worth keeping an abusive employee no matter how talented the are.

Companies who value people, gain very loyal, hard working employees at every level. That is good for the bottom line and for everyone.

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Tara September 20, 2012 at 6:45 pm

While rage is on the increase in a lot of work place environments, volume is just one part of the issue. Really, disrespectful and bulling behavior is the biggest problem, and that can be accomplished at any volume. You could whisper and still be harrassing someone.This just seems like it would be an ineffective policy. It’s well intentioned but a bit misguided.

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Judianne September 20, 2012 at 5:31 pm

There is a HUGE difference between acute and chronic behavior. If an unacceptable behavior is tolerated repeatedly until the offender has processed it as being acceptable to his/her supervisor and the company at large, it is a chronic behavior, and it should have never reached that point. Chronic unacceptable behaviors are signs of weak management, and so is shifting the responsibilites of creating policies to the employees. Either situation opens the office up for more more drama and potential anarchy.

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Kathy September 20, 2012 at 5:04 pm

I’ve worked with a woman that kicked holes in walls and nothing happened…I ended up leaving because I couldn’t deal with her anger issues…Management didn’t seem to care….Therefore, I left. Best move I ever made.

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Leah September 20, 2012 at 5:00 pm

I think there is a difference between a loud voice and a voice raised in anger. In a prior position at another company one of my co-workers was allowed to yell at (with the admitted intent to humiliate and harm) me, and some times I was afraid she would literally hit me. I spoke to my manager AND HR many times and was told it was unacceptable behavior; however, nothing was done about the way she treated me. It’s a difficult thing to manage, I realize, but I do believe expectations have to be clearly communicated. Otherwise, if one unacceptable behavior is allowed to continue then the line that separates it from the next level becomes very blurry . . . it can become worse and much harder to deal with.

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Susan September 20, 2012 at 4:41 pm

I like the idea of some repercussion…regular yelling and cursing has unfortunately become totally acceptable in our workplace. Neither does anything to help a situation and sometimes it’s downright intimidating. And it spreads from the top down once it’s perceived as acceptable behavior. Maybe a “no retaliation” policy instead, for reporting it?

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Ashley September 20, 2012 at 4:37 pm

I agree with others who’ve mentioned that this is not a policy easily implimented (such as how loud is too loud, etc).

Perhaps positive reinforcement would be more effective. Two employees debate in a respectful way and it’s noticed by management. Their treat is a paid lunch on the boss. Or whatever.

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Glenda October 1, 2012 at 9:14 am

I have a problem with rewarding employees for doing what they should be doing in the first place. Behavior that is expected of you in a workplace can be rewarded by a pat on the back or maybe a quiet “I noticed the way you handled that situation and I think you did a good job” should be enough.

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Andrea September 20, 2012 at 4:36 pm

I have been put in the situation where an employee has yelled out in anger towards me and it was not a pleasant situation. My supervisor was the one that handled the situation so I agree with Melanie that the supervisor should handle these types of outburst. If there were such policy made I think the only thing it can state is how the situation should be handled (i.e. If employee feels that he/she has been involved in a verbable exchange then said employee should report such conduct to their immediate supervisor within a certain timeframe).

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Judianne September 20, 2012 at 4:28 pm

I agree with Melanie. Having a policy such as this is like having too much federal government involvement in decisions states and individuals should be making. Any disciplinary action for acute situations such as these should be up to the employee’s direct supervisor, the person who should know the employee and her immediate co-workers best and is, therefore, the most qualified person to defuse the situation … and the employee’s temper. .

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amy September 20, 2012 at 4:24 pm

About 15 years ago, I worked in an environment where anger/raised voices in the workplace began suddenly and seemed to slowly spread. The office tension was unbearable and the stress was very hard to keep control of as you never knew when it would happen twards you. The VIP implemented a policy where, if there was an altercation in the office each party would be put on ‘probation’ and the primary agressor was sent to anger management classes, no matter what position they heald. Volume was less of the issue, agression and intimidation was more of the issue at the time. I left soon after the policy was set, but it did make my remaining time in the office more peacefull and productive knowing that there would be consequences for habitual actions of people who needed help.

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Diana September 20, 2012 at 4:22 pm

Some people talk loud because they are hard of hearing, and don’t know that they are talking loud to beging with.

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Branson September 20, 2012 at 4:17 pm

I actually like this idea–depending on what you mean by discipline. We have people who work in our office (an accounting firm) who get stressed out and carry on like crazy people, which just makes things even MORE stressful. If they know that they will without a doubt get a talking to if they get carried away, maybe they’d control themselves just out of pride, since no one likes to be disciplined in even a minor way. But the wording on your policy better be clear, because you could get sued if there’s a misunderstanding!

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Evyb September 20, 2012 at 4:16 pm

There are usually already administrative or personnel rules in place for threatening behavior in the workplace. If the employee in question is just loud by nature, I’ll admit it’s harder to get them to pipe down. With more and more cubicle dwelling, it seems the lack of respect for other’s space is rampant in the workplace. Also, don’t forget the folks who are extremely bent out of shape by capital letters in an email. If managers and lead staff are respectful and professional, it goes a long way to filter down to the rest of the staff.

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Marcie September 20, 2012 at 4:12 pm

That’s a pretty bold policy and brings in a lot of grey area … who defines ‘raised voices’? It sounds like the kind of policy that can’t really be enforced but it does make a strong statement about what kind of workplace you want. I agree that anger is a poison and there’s no excuse in an office for angry verbal sparring–it means that one or both parties has some maturing to do. I think it’s a good idea, but only as a symbolic gesture.

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Kathy September 20, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Some people express themselves by raising their voice or some “just to be heard”, does that make them “hotheads”? Why would you police people for raising their voice?

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Martha September 20, 2012 at 4:07 pm

I don’t think this is necessary – again it’s up to interpretation. Each situation should be handled on a case-by-case basis.

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Karen September 20, 2012 at 12:24 pm

I just can’t see how you could effectively write a policy like this. There are just too many things open to interpretation. How loud is too loud? How do you know the voice is risen in anger rather than some other emotion?

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Melanie September 20, 2012 at 11:47 am

There doesn’t need to be a policy for this. It should be handled by the loud employee’s supervisor. Also why are employees voting on policies? Policies should be implimented by management.

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