Desk Rage: A Macroergonomic Problem

Ergonomics is not just about how an individual interacts with an object. The field of organizational or macroergonomics looks at organizational structures and sociotechnical systems. In other words, how groups of people interact with each other in a work environment.

One aspect of this is the study of job satisfaction. Goody pay and benefits alone are not enough to satisfy a human worker. Unfortunately, many people are not satisfied with their jobs and do not have positive relationships with coworkers (both human and computer). The crowded, fast paced, stressful, cut throat nature of many work environments produces a symptom called “desk rage.”

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A 2001 survey of 1,305 workers found that 42 percent of respondents said there was yelling and other verbal abuse in their office, 23 percent said they have been driven to tears because of workplace stress and 10 percent said employees have actually resorted to physical violence (much of this was towards computers and other inanimate objects, not people).

What causes desk rage?

Overcrowding

A growing number of employers — especially those in high-occupancy urban areas — are assigning two or three workers to share cubicles designed for one. “We’ve noticed that there’s a trend toward overcrowding people,” says real estate analyst Hutchinson. “As companies realize they have to pay more for each square foot of real estate, they’re saying, ‘Well, we’ll just put 100 people into that space instead of 50.’”

Many people may arrive at work already seething: More and more workers are seeking cheaper housing that is often further from job centers. They have longer commutes — often in bumper-to-bumper rush-hour traffic. “Desk rage” can be “road rage,” carried in from the parking lot.

Overworking and stress

Stuff stressed workers in a crowded, noisy cubicle — in what’s been termed the “Dilbertization” of America — and you have the recipe for desk rage.

“All these different rages — road rage, air rage, whatever rage — are all symptoms of the same thing: We all have too many commitments and too little time,” says Lynne McClure of McClure Associates, which has advised Fortune 500 companies such as TRW and Motorola on how to prevent workplace rage and violence.

Technology

With laptops, PDAs, cell phones, e-mail and pagers, there is an ever-widening gap between the amount of information people are expected to keep up with and the amount they can reasonably process, says Dr. Kerry Sulkowicz, a psychiatrist and founder of the Boswell Group, a corporate consulting company in New York City. “The technology is outstripping our capacity to use it,” he says.

What can you do about it?

Hang pictures of friends, family, and beloved pets on your desk. It reminds us about our priorities.

Limit your workday hours; get away from the desk at lunch and take the vacation time you have earned.

Exercise, eat healthy, stay hydrated (at least eight glasses of water daily), and get enough sleep. Listen to your body. Headaches, upset stomachs, and back pain all have a cause. If you have these symptoms, your body is trying to tell you something.

Pace yourself. Don’t take on more projects than you can handle at one time. If it is difficult for you to delegate or say no, examine the underlying reason. What is pushing you to take on more work than can realistically be handled? If it’s fear about job security, a talk with your boss is in order.

Above exerpts from:

Desk Rage: Workers Gone Wild

Desk Rage: I’ve Been There, How About You?

Overworked, Overwrought: ‘Desk Rage’ at Work