Fairfield University Professor Donald E. Gibson selected the 2010-2011 Robert E. Wall Faculty Award winner to research anger in the workplace



Image: Donald GibsonAs the recession drags on, anger in the workplace is a growing problem.

That's in part because employees are working harder after co-workers are laid off.

Fairfield University Professor Donald E. Gibson was recently selected the university's 2010-2011 Robert E. Wall Faculty Award winner to research this complex phenomenon.

"With so much restructuring and layoffs, people are working harder than ever before while productivity has greatly increased," said Dr. Gibson, professor of management and chair of the management department at the Charles F. Dolan School of Business. "This is a recipe for people feeling frustrated and angry."

A professor at the Yale University School of Management prior to joining the Fairfield faculty, he will use the award to work on a book on the subject intended to be a tool for academics, managers and administrators. Tentatively titled "The Sound and the Fury: Understanding Anger in the Workplace," it will explore this fascinating issue of individuals' felt and expressed anger on the job.

"The idea is to explore how to effectively manage anger in the workplace," he noted. "The trend we are seeing is more, not less anger at work ... But it can help to focus on understanding what causes anger and paradoxically, whether positive outcomes can come from expressing a negative emotion like anger."

Prior to entering academia, Dr. Gibson worked in the entertainment industry, managing post-production and distribution for television shows and motion pictures at Lorimar Productions. After leaving his Hollywood career, he pursued a graduate degree at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in the early 1990s and became interested in studying workplace emotions. The topic, he says, was then "in its infancy."

His research has addressed individuals' emotional lives in organizations. The new book project, supported by the Wall Award, will build upon a recent series of articles on organizational emotions in general and anger in particular.

"Anger can be a constructive situation at work," he observed. "It can be energizing and can lead to positive outcomes and communication."

Unfortunately, most practicing managers are not good at assessing their employees' anger. "Managers need to pay attention to their employees' emotional lives," said Dr. Gibson, who teaches "Leadership" and "Managing People for Competitive Advantage," among other courses at Fairfield. "People need to be asked, 'Are you feeling angry?' They need to be able to articulate why they are feeling the way they do."

Meanwhile, emotional gender differences on the job persist. "Aggressiveness in a man is a good thing," he said of the double standard, "while the cost for women is much higher for expressing their anger."

Dr. Gibson earned an MBA and a Ph.D. from UCLA. He is editor of the Current Empirical Research section of Organization Management Journal, and served as program chair and executive director of the International Association for Conflict Management, a professional organization whose mission is to understand and improve conflict management in family, organizational, societal, and international settings.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on June 17, 2010

Vol. 42, No. 313