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

By Stuart Hearn, writer
Apr 28, 2017
Image Credit: dotshock/Shutterstock

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

How you deal with emotional or angry employees is crucial to maintaining a positive working environment.

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 which are 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 that 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 everybody reacts differently. Be personable, but professional. You are their manager and this must remembered, but being empathetic and trying to understand their point of view is essential in communicating. 

Don’t quote policy 

Following on from focussing on the individual, if you’re having a meeting and the employee is becoming aggravated or upset, highlighting certain company policies which they may have broken is not helpful. In all likelihood, they probably know the company policies and don’t need you reminding them when they are already upset or angry. This 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 in this situation to find some positives to focus on as well. Nobody 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. 

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 sadness or anger, to always have it in private. 

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 anger and 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 towards preventing these from occurring. Look at the broader reasons why — not just the individuals.

Continuous performance management is key

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 which 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.

Stuart Hearn has twenty years of experience in the HR sector. He co-founded plusHR, a leading UK HR consultancy, and previously worked as International HR Director for Sony Music Publishing. Stuart is currently CEO of Clear Review, an innovative performance management software system.
Like the article? Sign up for more great content.Join our communityAlready a member? Sign in.