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Why Companies Should Care About Angry Workers

Published: Monday, November 14, 2016 - 6:56am
Updated: Monday, November 14, 2016 - 12:27pm
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Christina Estes/KJZZ
Two companies recently announced plans to hire 2,000 technology and call center employees.

A new study from the University of Arizona shows angry employees are bad for business. Researchers at the Eller College of Business focused on anger and guilt. They got people to write detailed stories about a time they felt guilty. Then, researchers gave them an unrelated task where they could cheat.

“When you’re feeling guilty you think carefully about what you’re doing,” said Lisa Ordonez, who co-authored the study. “And, in this case, the ethicality of your behavior because you don’t to feel guilty again.”

A second study using a computerized card game involving a financial reward also showed that the guilty group cheated much less than the angry group.

“Anger has a very different reaction to unethical behavior because you’re impulsive and you can’t help yourself,” Ordonez said. “You’re not thinking and in fact you’re doing just the opposite: you’re reacting and so in that when you’re reacting you’re more likely to kind of frankly get back to our base instinct which is to do something that benefits us.”

Ordonez said the findings reveal why employees should promote environments where employees feel they are treated fairly and have a voice in the organizations. Without those feelings, she said companies risk employees behaving immorally or illegally.

“There might not be a law that an employee is breaking, but if you have a particular sales force and you have particular rules for conducting those sales, they might do something differently to get their sales up by maybe encouraging a certain group of people, maybe their friends to buy something and return it later,” she said. “That’s a common example that you might see in the retail environment.”

While the guilty group was far less likely to act unethically, Ordonez said supervisors should not try to make workers feel guilty because emotions are draining and impact work quality.

“We can’t teach adults morals and values,” she said. “We can tell them what are the rules and we have a compliance book and have ethics and compliance officers, but at the end of the day I think we need to think about context and how we treat our employees.”