Addressing FUD and anger in the workplace

Fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) have a direct influence on behavior. Many businesses are currently struggling with FUD as employees come back to work in person. Frustration and anger can quickly turn a great workplace into a very toxic one, so how do you prevent or stop it?

Often, people leverage FUD to promote behavior they would like to see increase. If I want someone to buy auto insurance, I might highlight the likelihood of having to pay out of pocket for a fender bender. While this process is well-known, what is less often considered is what happens when FUD doesn’t have a ready-made solution, or when a solution fails to have the desired effect? When that is the case, the result is often anger.

Understanding emotions

You see, there are two types of emotions, primary and secondary. Primary emotions are those that come first and are sometimes not easy to cope with. Some examples include failure, disappointment, betrayal and anxiety. Hence, people transform undesirable primary emotions into secondary emotions like anger and frustration. Anger almost always comes after a negative primary emotion. Chief among the emotions people would like to avoid are FUD.

As the pandemic has dragged on (and on), there have been frequent changes in guidelines and requirements. Peoples’ sense of security and predictability has been challenged. When disruption is added to FUD, it is a sure recipe for anger. We see this everywhere we look. Some people are angry they can’t go back to work in the office, while others are angry that they must go back to being in person. Some might be angry they have to wear a mask, while others are angry that masks aren’t mandated.

All experiences are valid

What employers should keep in mind is that a lot of this anger is a reaction to the situation and very personal to the individual. Like everyone else, employees are trying to find stability in a changing world and cope with emotions that are difficult to acknowledge.

So, what can an employer do to help address anger when it manifests itself in the workplace? One of the best responses is just to acknowledge it and validate the person’s experience. It is difficult to do sometimes, but the best managers can separate a situational emotional response from their overall evaluation of an employee. Validating their perspective, even if you don’t fully agree with it, can go a long way toward reducing anger and frustration.

Focus on the true problem

When working with emotions, it is often helpful to focus more on the primary emotions than the secondary emotions. For example, focus on the fear an employee may have returning to the office, rather than the anger they display when encountering a co-worker not wearing a mask.

If FUD and disruption are causing problems for your employees, provide opportunities for them to verbalize this and to problem-solve ways to address the issues. Sometimes just bringing the underlying issues out into the open can help alleviate the tension that builds up when people channel their primary emotions into secondary emotions.

If you have doubts about your ability to facilitate productive discussions in your workplace, don’t be afraid to bring in a consultant who can help. Either way, by addressing issues head-on, you will be showing your employees that you care about them as a whole person, which will decrease frustration and improve overall outcomes for the business.

Dr. Jacob Christenson, PhD, LMFT is CEO and founder of Covenant Family Solutions.