5 Ways to Manage Angry Employees

Fear of COVID-19 has morphed into frustration and anger, studies show. But experts say good leaders can make a huge difference to improve their mood.

About a quarter of employees have wanted to scream on the job, and more than one in 10 have wanted to strike a coworker but didn’t. That’s how employees felt before COVID-19 even existed.

Now, as the pandemic rages, there are signs that anger levels have only increased. “There’s a lot that can make people grumpy,” says Mark Royal, senior director for Korn Ferry Advisory.

Indeed, feelings of anger among workers appears to be an epidemic. In a recent study conducted by Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University examining more than 20 million English language tweets, researchers found global sentiment regarding coronavirus that started out as fear in late winter shifted to anger by April. With the pandemic rolling on, a few choice words and phrases kept showing up in millions of tweets about the virus: mad, idiot, stupid, and a host of vulgar terms. 

Can organizations—and their leaders—help? Experts say they can make a difference, since frustrations often relate to many of the moves companies must make today, from layoffs to pay cuts, as well bad bosses who lack empathy. Here are five steps leaders can take to help create cooler heads.


Royal says organizations need to find out the pandemic-related issues that are most frustrating to employees, then work to solve them before they cause employees to revolt. It’s one thing to assume that people are worried about catching the coronavirus through work, it’s another to find out they are worried specifically about commuting. Asking for specific pain points will not only help employees feel heard (and less angry) but also help leaders break down problems into more manageable tasks.

Communicate frequently.

Employees have felt isolated since the beginning of sheltering-in-place orders. That’s why leaders have to stay in constant contact with everyone, giving updates about the status of the business and workplace environment. Communicate with realness, clarity, authenticity, and regularity, says Kevin Cashman, Korn Ferry’s global leader of CEO and executive development. “Tell the real story. Convert anxiety to the attitude ‘We will get through this together,’” he says.

Be decisive.

Some organizations debated for years about letting more employees work remotely, a runaround that frustrated and angered employees. When COVID-19 hit, many of those organizations helped everyone get set up to work remotely within days. That type of decisiveness by leaders, Royal says, can go a long way toward keeping employee anger in check. Now it’s critical to keep being decisive, experts say, even when the pandemic isn’t necessarily forcing everyone out the door immediately.

Be flexible.

One of the most effective ways organizations can express empathy is by being flexible with work hours. The deteriorating line between work life and personal life has frayed everyone’s nerves, so if it’s possible, give employees a chance to compartmentalize their workdays, Royal says. For example, an employee could work from 8 a.m. to noon, take a few hours to spend time with loved ones, then resume work for a few hours after dinner.

Handle your own anger.

Odds are bosses are feeling a similar form of frustration as their employees. Their workloads have also increased, and in many cases, their pay has been cut too. But when anger arises, be mindful and take a moment. Rather than suppress the anger, try to turn it into something useful, Cashman says. “Anger transformed to service creates purpose-driven value, while anger without purpose tends to destroy value,” he says.