Is Anger Management BS?

Last Updated Mar 15, 2010 5:01 PM EDT

Intermittent Explosive DisorderRant and rave at employees? Throw small gadgets at the IT guy? Act out childhood issues on unsuspecting coworkers? Hurl creative curses at the boss? If it doesn't get you fired, these days, that kind of behavior will probably land you in an anger management class.

But you know what? According to the Wall Street Journal, nobody knows if anger management programs work or not. They're not regulated, the trainers aren't licensed, and there've been few if any reputable studies on their effectiveness. Wonderful.

I'm not even sure anybody cares. It looks to me like companies send employees to these programs simply to avoid or protect themselves against litigation. Company sends offending employee to a class, employee gets a certificate, everybody's off the hook.

But wait, it gets stranger. There's even a disorder named for this sort of thing. It's called Intermittent Explosive Disorder or IED. According to the article, IED is defined as "episodes of aggression against people or property out of proportion to any provocation." Studies show that five percent of the population fit that criteria. No kidding.

You know, I think the whole thing - the classes and the disorder - is a bunch of BS. Not that workplace anger is a good thing that folks should put up with; that's not what I'm saying at all. I just don't buy that "anger" is its own disorder or a standalone event.

That said, we live in a rapid-fire, sound-bite culture that's very much into labeling people and tossing them in a class or giving them a pill to pop. There's little patience for complex things like determining if someone's a threat to workplace safety or just stressed out.

In either case, it seems that people aren't getting what they need. And that should probably start with a little therapy.

I once had a boss from hell who regularly threw tantrums and punched holes in walls. The regional sales manager with the same company threw a letter opener at people to chase them out of his office. The wall by the office door had dozens of holes where the opener stuck. A former manager at another company I worked for actually threw a keyboard at one of his employees.

Those people were all nuts and they all needed help. You can say they have IED or any personality disorder you like or send them to anger management classes until their ears bleed and it won't change a thing. They'll still be nuts. They should be fired and that event may wake them up enough to seek counseling. Maybe not. That's their problem. But you don't want to send them to a class and then have them come back and go postal.

On the flip side, I've had abusive, dysfunctional bosses who had issues that I'm sure went back to their childhoods and mommy and daddy. No class was going to help them, either. Nor were they crazy, in my view, so labeling them with a disorder isn't the answer. What they needed was years of therapy that they would have to commit to on their own, voluntarily.

Frankly, this whole anger management thing has CYA written all over it. And it's not helping anyone. But hey, that's just me. What do you think? If you've got some insight into this type of thing, especially if you've had any direct experience with anger management, let us know.

Image courtesy Photomish Dan, CC2.0
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