Who are you sitting next to?

Road rage has grown into an epidemic that has spread through all aspects of our personal and business lives.

The newest term, “desk rage,” describes the negative, personal, worker-on-worker confrontations that are taking place at an alarming and increasing rate in businesses. One has to ask if there is something in the water that has caused this “new attitude” to erupt on the workplace battlefront.

I’ve worked with anger, crime, litigation, frustration, desperation and other explosive issues in workplaces, schools and general society most of my life. I see desk rage as a result of some unique underlining cause that needs to be identified, confronted and eliminated, or we can expect this trend to continue and potentially increase.

The majority of company managers, from CEOs to first line supervisors, usually classify the unruly, raging worker as a disgruntled employee with few redeeming qualities. The ultimate question is whether this person truly is a bad employee who cannot culturally fit in because he or she lacks the people skills and/or does not possess the technical skills needed for the job, or is this employee breaking down because of increasing job demands.

If the second scenario is the case, the employee may be a red flag indicating your business structure has hidden fractures that, in time, could be key to your company’s growth or continuing existence. Do company owners, management and supervisors need to be aware of these symptoms? Emphatically, yes.

My experience on the front lines of business altercations and rage has revealed that rage does not generally result from one single incident, but from a combination of several factors. The mixture of increased workloads, longer working days, mandatory overtime, pressure to wear multiple hats of responsibility and global competition takes it toll over time.

Our personal lives also have their stresses, including balancing family and work, caring for aging parents, spending more than we make, an unpredictable stock market, loss of a true value system, and the breakdown of the American family.

Ironically, we are constantly bombarded with new technology in all facets of our lives to the point that we are hardly allowed to enjoy each change. If we don’t embrace the fast pace of technology, we take the chance of being left behind.

Employees are simply losing their tempers and disagreeing more often over things that weren’t a concern years ago. Lost tempers rank at the top of reason for desk rage and other workplace altercations. A survey of workplace stress, conducted by The Marlin Company of North Haven, Conn., showed that 42 percent of office workers said their work environment included frequent yelling and verbal abuse.

This clearly indicates the workplace is not what it used to be. Compare the work environment with a track event. If your company is pushing employees to run nothing but sprints all the time, at different stages they are going to break down or quit. But if you run your company with the idea that the race is a marathon, you prepare for the long term by slowly conditioning employees and providing breaks in the process until you reach your goals as a team.

Are we making progress in the area of workplace rage? Recent studies show that actual workplace violence — killings, stabbings and deaths — is down statistically. Why? Because we have become aware of and sensitized to these encounters.

Corporate America woke up and took matters into its own hands to reduce violence in the workplace with improved security systems, increased security, training, education and employee assistance programs. All have had a significant impact on reducing the more violent behavior in the workplace.

But, while extreme episodes of violence are decreasing, low-level workplace incidents (desk rage) have increased tenfold over the last 10 years. Corporate America needs to understand what is transpiring.

Corporations are creating pressure cooker workplaces. Corporate America needs to understand that too many American workers can’t take the heat and may lose control. The only outlet many have is some form of survival channeled into desk rage.

Desk rage is not going away by itself. Every company can contribute to changing the momentum back to a more relaxed, productive and enjoyable work environment. We are aware of the situation and what causes it, but can we harness the strong winds of progress and help our employees and companies survive?

Timothy A. Dimoff is president of SACS Consulting & Investigative Services. Reach him at (330) 628-6393 or www.sacsconsulting.com.