Boss’ Anger Control: Limited to Middle and Upper Management?

A friend and I recently were commiserating about a boss both of us had at different times and different jobs—we coincidentally had been managed by the same woman at different companies. I found this boss to be a good person with good intentions, but difficult at times, while my friend had an upsetting story to tell: The boss had gotten angry and publically humiliated her, causing her to cry in front of co-workers. It got me thinking about the training, or temperament assessment, needed—before managers take the reins.

A report, released last week by AMA Enterprise, a division of American Management Association, reveals that low-level workers take the brunt of many managers’ anger. My friend and I were probably what you would call low level, though both of us were in professional jobs as reporters. Let’s put it this way: Our boss had no interest in regard to her career advancement in keeping us happy. My guess, of course, is she would have held her temper with a senior member of the staff or with one of the editors she reported to.

According to AMA Enterprise’s telephone survey of 532 employees, an average of 14 percent of North American employees report bosses losing their temper either “all the time” or “often.” That number jumps to 23 percent for those earning less than $25,000 annually. Here is a summary of the report highlighting the relationship between frequency of boss temper flare-ups and level of worker taking the brunt of it:

Responses to “all the time/often”:


Less $25K: 23%

$25K-$49.9K: 14%

$50K-$74.9K: 13%

$75K+: 9%


High School or Less: 17%

Some college: 12%

College or more: 12%

It is true that many people will not bother to treat with respect people who can’t help them with their career advancement, monetary gain, or social advancement, but there may be another reason low-level workers suffer from boss temper tantrums: They work in a poorly organized, harried environment. Many low-level workers are people who work on the front lines of a company, such as customer service representatives in a call center, those working behind the counter at a fast-food chain, or maybe a salesperson waiting on people in a department store. Nothing excuses a boss’ out-of-control, disrespectful tantrum, but lack of necessary resources and a lack of proper training could be partially to blame.

If a manager has dozens of customers in person or on the phone waiting to be served and only one or two employees to do the work, it’s a situation ideal for an angry flare up. If you couple the lack of resources with a training program that doesn’t teach managers how to perform well in such situations, it’s no wonder aggravating situations arise.

One of the frustrating things I’ve noticed in the corporate world is how often the upper and middle ranks of a company are filled with people who don’t contribute to completion of the workload, but are rather “strategy/big-picture” people, while the place where the most help is needed—on the front lines—often is under-served and nearly always under-paid.

I’d like to see companies do a better job assessing the labor needs of each department and each level within those departments. Is that something trainers could help with? It seems that trainers might be in an ideal position to help Human Resources allocate needed labor in the exact places it is needed most. After all, you know from your training needs assessments what each employee requires to do his or her job effectively, so is it a stretch to aggregate that information and let the C-suite know what whole departments, level by level, need?

Once you’ve determined the labor needs of your front lines, then it would be great to see managers role-play stressful situations in which anger is likely to be triggered. Maybe they need practice speaking to an employee who has made a mistake in a harried environment, including when it is best to take the employee behind closed doors to talk.

In media circles in the New York City area, there is a lot of buzz around the firing of New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson. Among the charges leveled against her are accounts of her publically humiliating employees. If you Google her name and “humiliating,” you’ll find many listings with references to her actions toward employees. What’s kind of funny is you’ll also see references to the public humiliation she experienced herself when she was fired!

Managers with anger-control issues, take note: The disrespectful corporate culture you help create may come full circle—and you may find you’re the next in line for an executive temper tantrum.

How do you help ensure adequate manpower is allocated to each area of your company, and how do you train managers to effectively handle a harried environment?