London - Kate Adams had been working for the same advertising agency for nine years when the recession began to bite. Round after round of redundancies put her and her remaining colleagues under increasing pressure, and the hours became unbearable.
Some days she would get home at 2am and be back at her desk at 7am. The stress soon started to have an effect.
‘I became a different person as soon I walked through the office doors,’ says Kate, 39.
‘I don’t naturally have a short temper but it got to the stage where the littlest thing would set me off at work. I’d throw my BlackBerry across the office when I got a message I didn’t like, and I cursed constantly.
‘One day my sister came to see me and said she could hear me swearing down the corridor. She made a joke about it but seemed shocked.
‘Another day, I found myself yelling at a colleague, who was also a good friend, when he was two minutes late for a meeting. The meeting wasn’t even important. I don’t remember what I shouted but I do remember the look on his face. He was appalled, and I went back to my desk and felt awful. It wasn’t like me but I couldn’t seem to help it - I was just so angry every single day.’
After a year of this, things came to a head. ‘I had what my friends refer to as my “Jerry Maguire moment”,’ says Kate.
‘I was so frustrated I wrote a memo to the managing director, outlining everything that was wrong - the inexperienced heads of departments, the giant egos - and the dire management that led to some of us working round the clock.
‘He later referred to it as “ten pages of hate”. Soon afterwards, I was let go. It was a relief, as things couldn’t have carried on like that, but nearly two years later I still shudder about how I behaved. It’s like looking at a different person.’
But Kate’s fit of office anger is far from unique. A recent study by health-insurance company PruHealth found nearly half of us admit to regular meltdowns at work, whether it’s ranting and raving, or throwing staplers - or even punches.
Forty-eight percent of us have snapped at a colleague, with 36 percent shouting at them. More than a quarter admit to physically taking out on their rage, on their computers, by slamming phones, throwing something or banging their fists on desks.
Three percent even say they’ve been physically aggressive, and one in 13 have witnessed a physical assault at work.
Forget road rage and air rage - Britain is in the midst of a desk-rage epidemic.
Therapist Mike Fisher, the director of British Association of Anger Management, sees the evidence every day. He says: ‘Three years ago, the majority of people coming to me were displaying anger within relationships. Only a very small minority had anger problems at work. Now that’s changed.
‘I’d say 40 percent of people now have been referred for help through their work. It’s disturbing.
‘People have always felt under pressure at work but the economic climate has made things much worse. Workers are seeing colleagues being fired or made redundant, and the accumulation of stress is having an effect. When people can’t cope with anxiety it turns to aggression and hostility.
‘In some cases, people may have been verbally abusive to colleagues or a boss - swearing at and insulting them - or they may have found themselves on the brink of physical assault. It’s usually at that point they give themselves a fright and seek help.’
But ‘desk rage’ doesn’t just mean extreme cases - it includes the times when tiny things trigger fury.
In my case, a jammed printer or slow internet connection can send me over the edge. A peculiar madness consumes me and I become someone who slams printer doors, turns the air blue and shouts at the poor man on the IT help-desk for daring to ask if I’ve tried turning my computer off and on again.
Recruitment firm Office Angels recently carried out a survey to find which petty things drive us maddest. Topping the list are pointless meetings, messy shared kitchens, people who let their cellphones ring loudly when they’re away from their desk, and colleagues who leave the photocopier or printer for someone else to fix.
Six in ten of those questioned said their irritation at work started when they walked into the office and colleagues didn’t bother to say good morning.
Psychotherapist Lucy Beresford says: ‘I knew someone who was so incensed that all the milk had been used, they went round cutting the heads off office plants.
‘A former colleague, who was otherwise a lovely person, threw his phone across the room all the time, if even the smallest thing went wrong. No one is immune to office rage.’
So why do gentle characters turn into the Incredible Hulk at their desk? A big factor is the sheer number of hours we are at work. We spend more time with our colleagues than our family, so of course colleagues’ ways are going to grate.
Endlessly ringing phones or crashing internet systems add to the torture.
And some people arrive at work after looking after babies all night or having had a blazing row with their partner.
So it’s no surprise the office can be a hotbed of tension. Lucy says: ‘A lot of things are out of our control. And we hate feeling out of control. Much of our working day is spent waiting for people to get back to us, waiting for bosses to sign off on something, waiting for information… this makes us frustrated.
‘This is why when our phone or broadband isn’t working we over-react - it reinforces our feeling of powerlessness.’ She adds: There is no doubt that office rage is getting worse in the recession. Job cuts mean people are working very hard, and the stress can result in office rage.
‘While a few years ago people felt they could get out of a bad job and find a new one, there’s less scope for that now, so people feel trapped.’
Mike Fisher agrees. ‘When people kick photocopiers or shout at a colleague, it’s rarely about the immediate situation - it’s a sign they are unable to cope with the stress of their ongoing situation,’ he says.
‘It doesn’t help that often the physical work environment is deteriorating - people might be hot-desking or have less space than they once did. All of this has an effect.’
NHS speech therapist Nicola Hemmings, 55, understands this all too well. Cuts in her department mean that she now shares her consulting room, and double-bookings often occur due to crossed wires.
She says: ‘There are times when I book the room, and I’ll get there and find some other meeting is taking place. It makes me angry and, yes, sometimes I lose my temper and shout.
‘There’s also a hot-desking policy, and because I’m part-time I have to fish around for a seat every time I go in. I have a bad back so I have a special chair but someone always takes it. It sounds like such a little thing but it all adds up.
‘Sometimes even the way people talk to me - the management can be so superior - leaves me quivering with rage.
‘I don’t vent my anger very often because I don’t want to lose my job but it’s always there. I feel like I’m angry every minute of the day.’
Mike Fisher says people express their anger in different ways. But whatever way you lash out, it never helps in the long run. He explains: ‘In the moment you vent you might feel a bit better, but a post-crisis depression sets in. You reflect and feel ashamed.
‘Then you start to worry about the consequences. After work you may drink your sorrows away, then a whole other cycle starts.’
Desk rage makes your work situation worse, too. Ms Beresford says: ‘People become so stressed in your presence that less work gets done, and when you start swearing, you’ve lost the argument. I’m a believer in venting but you must do it privately.
‘A walk around the block helps, as does any exercise - go to the gym, hit a punch bag. So does taking a lunch break - and I don’t mean ten minutes to grab a sandwich. You need a proper break in the day to relax.
‘You also need to switch off at home. Looking at your BlackBerry into the night means you’ll sleep badly.’
Mr Fisher recently published the book Mindfulness & The Art Of Managing Anger (Ivy Press), which contains meditation exercises to help keep rage in check. But if you are getting angry on a daily basis and know it is not in your nature, you need to ask yourself some questions.
First: is there something else bothering me that I’m ignoring? Am I getting mad at work because I’m actually frustrated in my relationship, for example?
Second: am I in the right job? Should I think about retraining? Or going to another company?
Anger can be a sign that it’s time for a change. It certainly was in Kate’s case. She says: ‘Even though my boss decided it was time for me to go, it was as if I was pushing it to happen.
‘I knew something had to change and the day I left I felt nothing but relief.
‘Now I’m working with a much smaller company and some stuff bothers me - no job is perfect - but I’m really happy.
‘New colleagues say they never see me without a smile, and I’m proud to say I haven’t thrown my BlackBerry across a room in months.’ - Daily Mail
* For information about the British Association of Anger Management see www.angermanage.co.uk.
RECOGNISE YOUR RAGE
Workers vent their anger in three different ways, says anger therapist Mike Fisher…
This type of person vents on inanimate objects, kicking the photocopier or slamming doors for example. They have trained themselves not to vent at other people - but they don’t realise the effect they are having on those around them.
If you are one of these, you scream and shout and hurl abuse. These people are often in management, so they get away with it.
These don’t scream and kick but vent their feelings by spending their days on Twitter or Facebook, stealing stationery and crying off work early.