It's OK To Get Angry At Work, Study Shows — Well, Every Once In A While

Is it ever OK to get angry at work? At first glance, the answer seems like it would be an unequivocal "no." Anger has something of a bad reputation, and for good reason: It can blow a conflict out of proportion faster than you can say, "Take a chill pill," and research has shown it's rarely productive in the long run. Therefore, showing anger in the workplace must be a terrible idea. Case closed, right?

Not so fast. In an article published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior this month, researchers question our instinctive dismissal of anger as a strictly negative emotion. While it can absolutely have negative effects — after all, nobody enjoys working in a hostile environment — these researchers argue that anger can also take "prosocial" forms, which are ultimately beneficial for society. "Moral anger serves to avoid harm while improving upon or removing an unacceptable situation that violates important moral values," Drs. Dirk Lindebaum and Deanna Geddes wrote in the study.

For example, you might experience this "moral anger" if you came across a coworker embezzling funds from the company, or if you finally caught the person who microwaves fish every day for lunch, or if you discovered Jim put all your stuff in Jell-O again. Admittedly, the first scenario is a little more serious, but all three evoke a sense of anger that is directed toward righting a wrong. In other words, this anger is productive rather than destructive.

Furthermore, the researchers claim that treating all types of anger as harmful ultimately misinforms work policies by discouraging workers from bringing attention to injustices. In other words, it can discourage whistleblowing. On the other hand, recognizing that some kinds of anger are healthy could help keep the work environment fair. "By prompting helping behavior, moral anger attempts to reconcile disparity, repair damaging situations, restore equity and improve the human condition," researchers wrote in the study.

Psychologists have long differentiated between healthy and unhealthy types of anger. The American Psychological Association writes on their website that some kinds of anger can be healthy, especially when you express the emotion in a productive way. (Just don't get carried away.) However, things can quickly go south if anger starts to control you, rather than the other way around. As useful as moral anger may be, though, repeated anger mismanagement is a one-way ticket to misery, including some nasty physical side effects.

So how do you know when it's OK to show anger at work? It depends on the situation and the degree to which you express it. According to the aforementioned study, it's totally fine to get a little PO'd at injustices in the workplace; in fact, that anger is hugely important in spurring you to take action. However, it's also important to remain professional — sure, you can be angry about something, but don't take it too far when you report it.

Also, be aware that something you perceive as unfair might not appear that way to your boss: As unfair as your office mate's extra-long lunches may be, they're not on the same level as someone who's embezzling funds... Although we can all agree that using the office microwave for your fish is at the top of the list. Feel free to get fired up about that one.

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