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How to Connect With (and Prevent) Stressed and Upset Employees

business.com editorial staff
business.com editorial staff

How you deal with emotional employees is crucial to maintaining a positive workplace.

  • A goal of any manager is finding out the root cause of an angry employee. Stress can often be a trigger.
  • Keep any meetings with an upset employee private and with a positive tone. Never be patronizing or a poor listener.
  • Prevent angry employee outbursts by cultivating a positive workplace culture.

How you deal with emotional or angry employees is crucial to maintaining a positive working environment. Whether or not you notice it, every workplace has a company culture. The way you deal with upset employees will shape the culture of your business.

In almost every working environment, a time will come when an employee will get angry or upset. For a manager, this can be overwhelming and may be an issue that you're unsure how to handle. Whether this is through tears, anger or anxiety, how you deal with these situations is important for both the employee and the company as a whole. If an employee has a negative encounter with a manager when emotions are high, this could lead to them feeling dissatisfied or even leaving the company

The root cause of why the person is upset or stressed may not even be related to work. There could be problems at home or in their personal life weighing on the employee's mind, causing them to react differently than they usually would. Whatever the employee is concerned about, connecting and communicating with them in the appropriate way is essential. 

How to deal with upset employees 

Always remain calm and listen.

Sometimes, an employee might just want to rant, cry or get something off their chest. Remaining calm until they are finished and demonstrating that you are there to listen is important. The last thing you want to do is replicate their anger and escalate the situation. Listen carefully, reply when needed, and remain calm. 

Remember,  you're talking to an individual.

While it's good to know how to react in different situations, remember that you are talking to an individual, and everyone reacts differently. Be personable, but professional. You are their manager, and this must be remembered, but being empathetic and trying to understand their point of view is essential in communicating. 

Don't quote policy.

When speaking to an upset employee, highlighting certain company policies that they may have broken is not helpful. In all likelihood, they probably know the company policies and don't need to be reminded of them when they are upset. Doing so can make a bad situation worse.

Focus on the positives.

Perhaps the employee is upset is because they've done something wrong and they're worried about your feedback. Giving staff constructive criticism isn't always easy. It's important when you're in this situation to find some positives to focus on. No one wants to be called into a meeting purely to be told about something they've done wrong; this is a sure-fire way to upset an employee. Find some positive traits and examples of your employee's work and mention these to the employee. 

Don't be patronizing.

According to Psychology Today, one of the worst responses when dealing with an upset employee is to patronize the individual and project moral superiority. For instance, don't correct the employee about his or her version of events. Instead, take the time to truly listen to what the person is saying before responding. Even if the employee doesn't have all of the accurate details, you don't need to prove him or her wrong. Also, avoid trivializing his or her concerns. As an example, don't say things like, "Well, you think you have it bad, you should try putting yourself in my shoes."

Always keep it private.

Unfortunately, people gossiping in the workplace is common. Unless you want to take a strong approach and ban office gossip, people talking to each other about who's going to get promoted or who had an argument in that meeting will circulate. There are many ways to deal with workplace gossip, including making sure that if you're confronting a member of staff about a subject which may lead to strong emotions, but it should always be handled privately. 

Creating a scene in front of other members are staff is not helpful for anybody. If an employee wants to confide in another employee later about what happened, they can do so. However, they may want to keep it private, and you need to respect this. Give them time to let their emotions out before sending them off to a meeting or interacting with other employees. 

How to prevent  discontent in employees 

Look at the common causes.

Do you find that you have a lot of employees getting upset or angry after talking with them? If so, perhaps you need to look at the common causes of why this is happening. Is the workload too much for people? Are the deadlines too demanding? Are you being too harsh when talking to staff members? If you find yourself in this situation a lot, it's time to identify the causes and work toward preventing these from occurring. Look at the broader reasons why – don't focus solely on the individuals.

Conduct regular performance reviews.

One way to save employees from bottling up their feelings and getting stressed about work-related issues is to conduct regular performance management reviews. Annual reviews prevent staff from having regular discussions about how they're feeling at work, and when the annual review comes around, they have a lot to say about issues that may have been occurring for a while. It's time to move away from annual performance reviews and promote a healthier, more regular dialogue between employers and employees. Members of your workforce are much more likely to open up if they have regular contact and feel familiar with their manager.

Image Credit: dotshock/Shutterstock
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