Road rage — the expression, not the actual incidents — is gaining respectability in India. The newspapers report daily of people jumping out of cars and hitting (even shooting) each other. It may make sense to introduce the portable car loos you have in Thailand; there must be some way to let out the pressure.
Desk rage or office rage is also becoming commonplace today. True, it doesn’t make headlines so often; it is in nobody’s interest to broadcast it to a wider public. But HR heads in many companies are seeing this as a huge and growing problem.
A survey by LinkedIn, a social network for jobseekers, says Indians have more peeves than any other country in the world. The biggest problem is “People not taking ownership for their actions”. This means that we are not prepared to put our reputation on the line to openly back — or not back — a controversial scheme. We are a nation of fence sitters waiting to hop on to the right side after the outcome has become clear.
This playing safe makes for mediocrity. Bright ideas are always opposed by the establishment. You actually don’t need to sit on the fence on such occasions. But the sheer refusal to debate anything new can be extremely maddening.
To blow your top in office might often put an end to your career. You won’t lose your job. But you will certainly suffer a setback in the race for a senior position. There are people who use anger as a device to control others. But they use it with subordinates, never with their bosses and rarely with their colleagues. In fact, if such a person gets angry with a peer, it means he already looks upon him as a subordinate.
The LinkedIn survey has found several differences across countries and cultures. Americans get more irritated than other nationals by co-workers taking others’ food from the office refrigerator.
Brazilians are most annoyed by excessive gossiping.
Germans are annoyed by dirty common areas (the community microwave or refrigerator).
Indians react most negatively to irritating mobile phone ringtones.
Japanese are more peeved by office pranks than others.
Desk rage is becoming quite popular these days as a subject of research. According to an Office Angels survey in the UK, the first irritant is the number of people who don’t say good morning when you walk into the office.
The other peeves include colleagues who keep their mobile on during meetings and whisper into them. They are actually more distracting than somebody carrying on a normal conversation. Working with Sad Sacks is always a damper, of course.
How do you tackle this? At an individual level, Nicole Williams, author of Girl on Top, has some advice.
Don’t let it build, she says. Politely point out the obnoxious behaviour.
Keep it professional. Don’t bring God and motherhood into this.
Presume the best: Perhaps, the guy doesn’t know that he is irritating you so much.
Ask around. Check your own status. Are you peeving others too?
HR professionals are divided on how to tackle this at an organisational level. One school of thought says that there is nothing you can do about it. You solve the problem of keeping the kitchen clean and another one will surface in its place. So why bother? Besides, an occasional flare up is good for all.
Others feel that things can quickly go out of hand. HR is about pre-empting problems. Have various ways of getting feedback, anonymously if necessary. Put up notices that talk about the problem (this article, for instance). But the only way that works is to make your office a fun place. Office rage flees when people are happy at work.