You know the feeling, We've all had it -- when you're at the end of your rope at work and someone says (or does) something so rude or stupid that you just cannot take it any more. Maybe it doesn't happen to you, but to your coworker in the next cubicle.
Regardless, "desk rage" is the new term to describe that feeling (although it doesn't always happen at a desk, of course); in a recent story in Psychology Today, author Ray B. Williams cited some disturbing statistics about the trend of violence in the workplace.
Williams mentions a study by Integra Reality Resources indicating that 10 percent of American workers had witnessed physical violence in their workplace. With approximately 100 million people in America's work force, that's 10 million incidents, a statistic scary enough to make you call in sick.
With all that fury out there, it isn't too surprising that most working Americans have stories to tell about the desk rage they have witnessed or experienced; what follows are some very personal tales of those moments when it all goes very wrong at the workplace.
Ultimate Fighting at work -- up close
There's nothing more scary than to be trapped! I was at work, in my little office in Bothell, Wash.,, where we sold Jani-King Franchises to people that wanted to go into business for themselves.
Sounds great doesn't it? I was 40 years old, happy to be working at such a good company, sitting at my computer in my office, when I heard something slam into its glass walls. Then I heard cussing and yelling and realized that these two employees were beating each other up!
Ralph, one of our operations men, was hitting another man -- hard. Larry, our regional director, came running, but he couldn't get the two men apart. I was already scared of Ralph's temper, having been a victim of that rage a couple times before. I wanted to flee, but they were blocking my escape route, literally rolling and tumbling on the floor right in front of my office door.
Bothell is the place where all the Microsoft yuppies go to work, and our building was full of doctors, oral surgeons, real-estate agents and professional people. But at that moment it looked and sounded like an Ultimate Fighting brawl was going on, smack dab in the middle of that normally placid place. It was surreal. Finally, the two were separated and order was restored.
The regional director was a friend of Ralph's, so I knew that nothing was going to happen to protect me or the man Ralph was beating up. So after the incident, I called Gary Clark, the president of Jani-King International at the time, to report the physical violence Larry had allowed to go on, as well as the sexual grabbing Larry did from time to time to his female employees.
The next morning I came to work planning to quit my job, but I found a different man sitting in the regional director's office -- it was the big boss, Gary Clark! Mr. Clark, who owned Jani-King of Seattle, wasn't going to tolerate Larry's behavior and had fired him. Larry had been the regional director for 12 years and I had only been working at my job as customer-service manager for three months, yet because I was brave enough to call the right person, he was investigated and removed.
Everybody in the office was relieved to feel safe at work once again. I was proud to have spoken up, and I think my story proves that nothing changes in a bad situation until somebody is brave enough to speak up.
– Desiree Welvaert
Pissed Off at the Office
An MD's terrible manners
My name is Miranda Dawdy and I am 27. I have been working as a nurse for about a year now, in a small-town nursing home. I love my job and my co-workers, but most of all my residents, the people who need my care every day.
My work rage experience began when I had agreed to break in a new nurse on the 2-10PM shift. She and I had to contact a doctor, whom I'll call "John Q. Grumpypants, MD," to obtain a new order for one of the residents. I went to the front nurses station while she called the doctor and returned to discover we still did not have the medication ordered. I called our on-call nurse to find out how I should appropriately handle the situation and she gave me instructions to call the on-call pharmacist. By this time, my patience was running short because I knew the resident was in pain and waiting for the relief the medication would give.
I finally received a call back from the on-call pharmacist, who said I needed to contact the doctor to have the medication changed to match what we had in our emergency medication box. So I called Dr. John Q. Grumpypants and explained the situation.
He got very mad, yelling at me, "Don't you have a brain in your head? You need to learn how to use it! I gave you that order hours ago!"
I was completely dumbfounded and slightly confused, as I had only received the order 30 minutes earlier. But I got a new order from him, thanked him for his help, hung up the phone and began to wail like a small child who had just spilled her ice cream. I was so hurt, and yet so incredibly mad at the same time.
I called my director of nursing to let her know how I felt about this doctor's manner, and she told me her own Grumpypants horror story. She also revealed that she was certain that Dr. Grumpypants does not wear the pants in his household, his wife does. She told me that when he and his wife are together, he is very polite and is a completely different person.
I felt a little better after hearing this story, and I smiled to myself, thinking "maybe that's why he's so grumpy." A couple of days later at work, I had to again call Dr. Grumpypants and this time he had to come to the facility to see a resident. When he arrived there at 2:30PM he looked at me and said, "You the nurse on?" I informed him that my shift ended at 2PM, so he would have to wait and I would page the nurse on.
But he insisted. "Well, if you were the one that called me, you just need to lead me down there so I can look at her. I don't have time to stand around and wait." He was just so rude and bossy that I could no longer contain myself. I looked at him and said, "I don't think your wife would approve of the way you are talking to me. You will have to wait while I get the nurse that's on."
I turned around and walked away. As I went to page that nurse, I looked back and saw the look on that man's face. It was priceless. He had no clue what to do or say. For the first time in my nursing career, I got to see him speechless. Words can't describe how good that felt and I have had no problems with him since!
(Let me add in that John Q. Grumpypants is a very smart doctor, but is also extremely rude and degrading to nurses. Every nurse in our facility has a horror story about this man.)
– Miranda Dawdy
Freak out at the Cubicle Farm
I worked at a major Pittsburgh bank for over four years in their inbound call center. The work was challenging. The callers were often obscene, abusive or made impossible demands. True, we also had wonderful, courteous clients, but they were in short supply that evening.
The night that Sean freaked out was quite possibly one of the worst shifts any of us customer service representatives could remember. We were understaffed by over 60 agents due to a spreading illness, and clients were angry about long wait times. Breaks and lunches were suspended, and management was offering incentives to entice us to stay and work late.
Sean sat behind me and was a quiet, unassuming guy. He spoke softly and never raised his voice. He had been with us over five years and had a spotless record. However, he had also picked up the horrible cold going around, and he sounded nasal and hoarse.
Suddenly, I heard in an indignant tone.
"What did you just say?"
I hit the mute button on my phone and swiveled around in my chair. Mild Sean had become wild Sean. His breathing had accelerated, his shoulders were heaving. He picked up his keyboard, and, using it as a bludgeon, smashed his computer monitor. Keys flew everywhere. He then beat the phone with such vigor that his headset flew off. He spent the next few moments stomping the headset into the carpet. He hadn't uttered another word.
Given his long service and the fact that he'd not hurt anyone or himself, Sean was kept on after his rage attack. He received company-paid therapy and moved to a lower-stress position in Quality Assurance where he monitored calls, rather than actually taking them.
Later, we learned that the client had wished death on Sean's mother. Sean's mother had died the previous year in an accident. Quality Assurance had it recorded, and lobbied for Sean to keep his job and pay level. Management agreed. He never answered another call, though, and to my knowledge is still working cheerfully in Quality Assurance.
– Christina Lynn Cehlarik-Peterson
Classic office rager
I lost it in HR
Rage simmered in my soul after my boss took a sabbatical and my workload expanded. Weeks later, another member of the human resources department hugged me goodbye on the eve of her maternity leave. My role as the placid, behind-the-scenes HR gal responsible for payroll and pension matters hastily expanded. My absent co-workers had dealt with disgruntled managers, workers and discipline. Now i got all that added to my already demanding job.
The division managers at our massive plant now charged up to my office, barking about problems beyond the shop doors. Men in steel-toed boots lined my corridor. My red voicemail light never stopped blinking. The intercom system blasted, "Tracy Ryan! Please call extension 100!"
In my eight years with the company as benefits administrator, pages for me were rare. Now they echoed through 200,000 square feet of machinery. Smiles grew infrequent on my 33-year-old face. Blotches of frustration and a deepening frown line between my brows replaced them.
I appealed to upper management. "I'm drowning," I told them. "I need a buoy. I need help."
A temporary manager arrived in a smart suit. Jargon flowed from her lips, supported by gestures made with manicured hands. Amelia offered a wealth of meaningless organizational theory. Familiar with sterile corporate offices, she was green to the gritty demands of a fast-paced industrial facility. The P.A. system continued to drone for me, as Amelia artfully positioned a plant on her windowsill and gawked at the disordered stacks on my desk.
Instead of helping me, she heaped more on my suffocated inbox. Loopy writing covered post-it notes. "Please handle this." "Please provide me with a copy of..." My buoy was a well-dressed lady who had no intention of doing any work at all. She just wanted to micro-manage me.
"I'll need you to write a memo," Amelia said to me one afternoon, her mouth revived with lipstick.
I held my hand like a crossing guard, begging her to STOP right there.
"Do you see my workload? Are you kidding me?" I yelled. Blood swooshed around my ears and I lost it, started swearing and a stream of F-bombs rose from my chest. I morphed into an expletive-hurling lioness. I hollered at this woman, calling her useless and ridiculous, and began railing against the company with more vigor than the saltiest operator on the factory floor.
"Why are you cursing at me?" she said, blanching.
"Because I'm sick of this goddamn place and I don't need you -- a (bleeping) robot-- giving me more $#@! to do."
"How dare you speak to me like this?"
We stared. My adrenaline plummeted. I tried to apologize but my jaw opened and closed as if taffy were stuck to my fillings. Amelia smoothed her neat hair.
The vice president summoned me, confused. He wasn't certain he could believe Amelia's report of my vulgar tirade.
"Did you really call her a useless piece of $&%#*^! @*($?"
"Yeah, I lost it."
His expression indicated a curious mix of disapproval and excitement. He didn't know I had it in me. I didn't know either. I resigned a few months later. It was time.
– Tracy Ryan
Angry man at work
A woman's fury
I was working in a customer service position for a telecommunications company, about eight years ago, when I was 36 years old. It was a busy Monday afternoon and the calls were piling up in cue. The light was flashing red on the call-list screen telling us that 15 calls were on hold. It felt like everyone and their brother were calling up to complain either about their bill or that there was nothing good on the television.
I am usually a very patient person and can work with most people, listening very well to the customers and understanding their needs. In fact, I was the top representative for the company, No. 1, so I could handle anything, right? Well, even the so-called "best" can have a really rough and tough day with a customer or two.
I remember thinking, "Why is this customer on the phone swearing at me?" Over the years with this job, I have been called many names over the phone by customers who love to vent to me about their gripes; but on this bad Monday. I remember taking a call from a curse-filled guy, who seemed determined to make me feel like a fool.
After much back-and-forth trying to solve his problem, he finally said to me, "Listen, sweetie, you don't know what you are talking about, you (bleep)! Get me a man on the phone, 'cause they know what they are talking about."
He had pushed my last button with that, and I responded in kind. "Listen, sweetie, I have been working here for over 12 years and I am a lead representative that handles calls like yours every day. I do not need you to tell me how to do my job!"
I was furious and upset, then also discovered that my own supervisor had been listening in to my conversation with this customer. It was at that point that I needed to take a break and rushed outside for some air. The cold air woke me up and the walk around the building helped to calm me down.
I did eventually head back into the office, when I ran into my supervisor. I was sure that I was going to be written up for my breakdown in politeness. But to my surprise, my boss agreed with me that the guy on the other end of the phone was just simply a "jerk" and now and then these things happened, even to the best of us.
So I guess in this world of customer service and desk rage -- or in this case "phone rage" -- that the worker can be right sometimes. I did get lucky that my boss agreed that sometimes it is OK to get totally furious and want to throw the computer through the window. I refrained from giving in to that impulse, though, and took a long walk away from the desk. That probably saved my job.
– Tammey Karp