Research shows it can be good to get angry at work

Researchers at the University of Liverpool have found that anger used by managers in the construction industry has a positive impact and contributes to the success of a project.

The study aimed to understand the reasons why and when anger was used by Construction Project Managers (CPMs), as well as the impact that this show of emotion had on their work. The study found that, contrary to previous studies on the subject, anger is widely used by all CPMs, irrespective of age, to get tasks done and to successfully resolve problems.

Researchers interviewed 19 CPMs from four different companies across the UK, ranging in age from 26 to 62 years old. Their experience in the industry varied from one to 35 years. The study found that CPMs use anger in a deliberate fashion reflecting the hierarchy of the industry. Therefore, it is less likely to be used by CPMs when meeting with architects, the design team or line managers but more likely to used when liaising with contractors and operatives.

Other reasons cited for using anger also included a fear of losing reputation and “pulling rank” which was identified as a characteristic common to the construction industry. However, CPMs recognised that if this approach was used too often it would not have the desired impact. Issues which provoked an angry outburst tended to relate to breaches in health and safety and questions about honesty and integrity.

Dr Dirk Lindebaum from the University’s School of Management said: “This project found that anger is embedded in the occupational culture of the construction industry and represents a core characteristic of the manager’s role. Stress and anger are emotions frequently experienced by the CPMs and contrary to common management theories is widely used to achieve a positive outcome – to get the job in hand done.

“The construction industry is fast-moving, fiercely competitive with many short-term pressures. It is one of the most male-dominated and aggressive industries in the UK which has implications on the nature of behaviour displayed and the nature of power structures. `Softer’ emotions such as sympathy or understanding are rarely displayed whilst toughness and control prevail.

“A CPM is responsible for the day-to-day running of the construction site and oversees control activities on site including instructions, payments, progress meetings and commercial meetings and liaises with architects, civil engineers, sub-contractors and operatives on site.”

The construction industry in the UK comprises of more than 300,000 firms employing over two million people in a multitude of roles.  Previous studies of anger in the workplace have argued that anger is a negative emotion which does not yield positive outcomes.

The research was published in the journal Human Relations.

2 thoughts on “Research shows it can be good to get angry at work

  1. Dirk Lindebaum

    Thank you for your interest in the study.
    Regarding your comment that this looks like a “seriously flawed study”, the paper has undergone a rigorous double-blind peer review process in the Journal Human Relations. This is one of the most prestigious and top-rated journals in our field and reviews are conducted by top academics of the discipline.

    Perhaps if you read the published study it will become clear how findings were established. A careful look at it reveals numerous examples that suggest the positive role of anger (as indicated by the lived experiences of project managers). That is, the data analysis shows a coherent narrative across most project managers that they use anger when the project faces a gridlock. As both the published study, as well as the press release show, anger was exercised downward in the power hierarchy and not upward.

  2. Duncan Robertson

    This looks like a seriously flawed study to me. It states that anger is “embedded in the occupational culture of the construction industry”, so how on earth can its contribution be assessed, let alone be judged beneficial? Perhaps the current performance of the industry is achieved *in spite* of the anger? My point is, that without some sort of cohort study, how can you assess the contribution of anything, let alone anger.

    Finally, before I’m branded as some woolly, white collar idealist, I’d like it to be known that I have worked in the construction industry. It is angry as described, but to my eye, the most sucessful managers were always the ascertive, “firm but fair” types.

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