“I have a lot of anger about the way that she has been treating me through this period. Um…and that is not conducive to my best work. But if I don’t do my best work, I know she’s just going to come down on me harder. ” – Low morale study participant (Male, acquisitions librarian)
“…[I]t was really hard to get [my work] done. It was hard to concentrate, it was hard to motivate myself to do even the most basic parts of my job. I really struggled with that. And I struggled with, well, I mean – I was so busy stewing in my anger and resentment that I didn’t really care whether I did the job or not.” – Low morale study participant (Female, cataloging/metadata librarian)
“I mean, it’s very hard to get up and come into work in the morning. It’s very hard not to be angry throughout the day, and I have to work really hard at, you know, just keeping a smile on my face and, you know, being friendly to the students whom I like very much.” – Low morale study participant (Female, reference and instruction librarian)
“I was angry about what wasn’t hap- what people were doing and what people didn’t do, myself because I knew that there was noth- no one was going to do anything, there was nothing I could do to change the situation, and that the institution that I had trusted for so long basically had, you know, blindsided me and really revealed itself as something that I – as an institution that I couldn’t trust or believe in.” – Low morale study participant (Male, reference and instruction librarian)
“…the anger lasted much longer than the fear, and I can’t even say that it totally went away, ‘cause every time I think about it, I find myself getting angry again.” – Low morale study participant (Male, library administrator)
Looking at the original study’s very raw qualitative data, the words angry or anger appear over 100 times. From the selected statements that open this post, what is revealed is not only the feeling that is experienced, but the effects the feeling has on daily practice, the perception of relationships with colleagues and library users, and the impacts on mental health. You can also see how this emotion passes through several themes and impact factors of the low-morale experience via:
- kinds of abuse (e.g., systemic abuse, negligence)
- cognitive behaviors (e.g., work avoidance, perfectionism)
Data analysis also showed that anger (and its iterations, e.g. annoyance through rage) was often contextualized as the gateway emotion leading to other negative feelings, including fear, depression, hopelessness, and disappointment. Moreover, anger was the feeling that many participants re-lived the most – it was often the emotion driving vivid recollections of their experiences.
In this way, anger acts as a noose, constricting the targets’ emotional resiliency during a low-morale experience and negatively impacting their mental and physical resiliency during and long after the experience has ended.
Health literature underscores the negative effects of anger. In his review, Suinn (2001) notes that anger:
- increases likelihood of physical illnesses, including asthma, liver disease, and rheumatoid arthritis;
- impairs the immune system which also increases likelihood of and more importantly, the length of illness;
- prolongs physical wound healing (a nod to impaired cellular functioning);
- heightens perceptions of pain;
- increases cholesterol levels; and
- increases likelihood of fatalities caused by cardiovascular disease (usually from long-term atherosclerosis – hardening of the arteries).
Suinn also summarizes the cognitive mechanisms that are most often associated with anger, among them:
- the emotional arousal surrounding the behaviors of vigilance and scanning (in my study, “Uncertainty/Mistrust” and markers of perfectionism are the best matches).
- the gateway into lowered self-care or decreased positive health behaviors (e.g. negative coping strategies)
- lack of support structures or the presence of relationship conflicts (in my study, enabling systems of Human Resources Limitations, Tenure/Promotion, and Staffing/Employment).
Recognizing and giving a name to anger – in all of its guises – is particularly important in the low-morale experience, because being able to do so may lead to the emotion being positively channeled to spur low morale sufferers to action. This feeling of purpose may loosen the vice-like grip of anger and lessen the impact of the related emotions that arrive after it. After being suddenly derailed on a sorely needed staffing hire, one participant shared,
I let my anger turn into determination, and I really did, I just kept really good statistics, kept track of what was happening, interviewed people who would like team up to use the service when [problem employees] were asleep in the middle of the night or something like that, you know, I tried to keep logs of what was going on and information about what other practices were happening out in the field. And I did, I eventually wrote a report and shared it with my supervisor at the time, and then, once we got a new administration in place, with the new administrators who came. And eventually I was able to get them to realize that most of the services like this are not 24 hours, and definitely not with [this traditionally unreliable employee pool]. And so I was able to get some of those things changed but it took a couple of years. – Low morale participant (Female, media and information services librarian)
If anger was part of your low-morale experience, what “level” was it? Annoyance? Irritation? Fury? What emotions showed up with it – or after it? How does it impact your memory of the experience? How have you dealt with it? Share if or how you were able to channel it to your benefit.
Suinn, R.M. (2001). The terrible twos – anger and anxiety: Hazardous to your health. American Psychologist, 56(1): 27-36.