While most managers wouldn’t condone displays of anger in the workplace, a recent study found when this anger is selfless and directed toward the better good, it may actually play an important role in maintaining a fair workplace.

Researchers from the University of Liverpool in England investigated if all workplace anger was equally disruptive for their study, published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior. They hypothesized that moral anger, or anger that intends to prevent harm, doesn’t have the same negative effects as other forms of anger.

So, the team assessed the contexts in which anger manifested and found it’s important to distinguish between morally based angry outbursts and hostile anger. Moral-based anger, unlike hostile anger, is motivated by the desire to defend others, or the greater good, and “serves to avoid harm while improving upon or removing an unacceptable situation that violates important moral values,” study author Dr. Dirk Lindebaum told Phys.org.

Lindebaum says moral anger is beneficial to society and that it helps to improve workplace function by ensuring a fair equilibrium is maintained. The researchers suggested this is a good reason to keep this form of anger around.

"Increasingly, anger is cast as an expression of deviant, harmful behavior," the authors wrote, adding the consequences of this disdain for anger may reduce chances of whistleblowing within the workplace. "Allowing morally-motivated anger to be expressed can serve as a tool of organizational diagnosis to better our individual and collective behaviors."

A good example of moral anger, the researchers said, was former U.S. government employee Edward Snowden, who called out the government on its extreme surveillance activity. A former National Security Agency (NSA) subcontractor, Snowden leaked top secret information about government programs meant to obtain citizens’ phone records as well as information from various websites, like Google, Facebook, and Apple. Although the aftermath of Snowden’s actions have been marred in controversy, Americans now have a better idea of how private their lives truly are.

While moral anger may be beneficial to the workplace, past research by the American Psychological Association has shown that aggressive, bullying anger has the opposite effect. Bullying in the workplace can lead to increased absences among employees, higher employee turnover rates, and even expensive lawsuits. For this reason, it’s important for managers to differentiate between the two types of anger and ensure that only one finds its way into the workplace.

Source: Lindebaum D, Geddes D. The place and role of (moral) anger in organizational behavior studies. Journal of Organizational Behavior. 2015.