Not only is rage a glaring red flag of self-control lost, but rage itself is out of control, evidencing itself in disturbing, dangerous and increasingly deadly ways — from the "road rage" of drivers gone mad to "desk rage," in which employees lash out verbally and violently against fellow employees.
News stories of disgruntled workers attacking, and sometimes killing, other workers are common today.
Deanna Geddes, associate professor of human resource management in Temple University's Fox School of Business, has studied the causes and nature of desk rage.
"People tend to confuse workplace anger and workplace aggression, but shouldn't," she says.
"When people are angry, they may be frustrated about something, but not necessarily violent and aggressive. Anger is a signal that there is something wrong that needs to be addressed by managers, 98 percent of whom have experienced some form of workplace anger and aggression.
"Good managers will recognize that a problem exists and respond to correct it. Aggression, in contrast, means that someone has a conscious intent to harm someone else," Geddes explains.
A worker may exhibit incivility, characterized by a lack of regard and rudeness — literally the act of not being civil — but that's not aggression, Geddes notes.
However, what such behavior does is violate accepted social norms, she says. It could be making inappropriate remarks about co-workers, giving someone the cold shoulder or feigning incompetence, as when someone withholds something at work a colleague needs.
"When normal behavior is violated at work, including when someone feels it was unfair that someone else received a promotion instead of that person, then this kind of perceived slight can escalate gradually, can spiral out of control and can lead to aggression," states Geddes, adding that "escalation is a warning sign of possible violence."
Violence Is as Violence Does
Fortunately, she continues, workplace aggression occurs in less than 3 percent of the U.S. workforce. In connection, Geddes adds, research shows a strong correlation between violent communities and violence at the work sites located in them.
"While the ego reacts naturally to protect, some people are predisposed to being offended easily; some people have an abrasive personality; and some people feel justified, feel righteous indignation, in seeking revenge," she claims.
At the Philadelphia College of Physicians, George M. Wohlreich, M.D., a psychiatrist and the college's CEO and director, talks about what underlies desk rage.
Says Wohlreich: "The general rule is, we all have similar impulses, so everyone is capable of everything and anything at any time. Most people who erupt aren't that much different from others, but lose control over their fantasies and feelings, and wind up in the newspaper, hospital or jail.
"An explosion of this type can happen among people who feel singled-out unfairly and who are being harassed at work, for example, and who think they've suffered a significant injustice, either rightly or wrongly, in the workplace, and who wind up feeling bitter and in need of revenge," he notes, not to mention that "violence can happen among people who have pre-existing medical or mental conditions."