Emotions in the Office: What do you do when employees cry?
Almost everyone knows the feeling: your throat burns, you jaw begins to shake and your eyes water up. Sometimes, you just can’t help bursting into a flood of tears. The situation is compounded if it happens at the office – in front of your boss and work colleagues. It’s not only an embarrassing situation for the employee concerned but also for superiors, whose job it now is to deal with the situation professionally. But many senior managers must first learn how to deal with emotional employees.
If the reason for the tears are of a personal nature – for example, the loss of a relative or a split from a partner – the best reaction is usually to give the individual some room, delegate work to others or allow some free time. Anyone crying due to their personal circumstances is usually met with a wave of understanding in their professional life. It is more difficult if the reason for the emotional outburst lies within the office itself. Here, the management skills of superiors are put to the test.
Tears are seen as unprofessional
Tears do not belong in the office, but crying is part of being human. Statistically, women cry more often in daily life than men – mainly due to differing emotional roots. Surveys show that in women, catalysts can be conflict or because they do not feel they have grown into a role. Men on the other hand tend to cry out of sympathy or due to difficult personal situations.
The individual’s first reaction is usually to retreat to avoid colleagues and superiors witnessing an emotional outburst. This is not without reason, as crying is usually interpreted as a weakness and a lack of professionalism. Regardless of the genders of the members of your team, those not in control of their emotions will generally –albeit in most circumstances unfairly – be less trusted in their position and are less likely to be given responsibility.
Protect individuals from prying eyes
When employees cry, it is in the best interests of the emotional employee for their tears to have as few witnesses as possible. Managers can help by interrupting a conversation during a meeting and continuing it privately later, for example.
Even when the floodgates open during a one-to-one meeting between manager and employee, remember: discretion is the better part of valour. The tears should not be mentioned to other employees – not even to try to encourage some understanding.
A short break following the meeting allows the individual to return to their colleagues after tell-tale signs such as puffy or red eyes have disappeared. If further discussion is needed due to a conflict with another employee, the discussion should not take place on the same day. It is better to give the employee concerned time to calm down and get their thoughts in order. The meeting to clear the air can then be conducted in a tear-free, objective manner. Further suggestions on how such mediation should be handled can be found in our blog.
Senior managers: stay neutral!
Even when employees’ emotions are running high, a senior manager should always try to remain neutral in the meeting and discuss problems objectively. At the same time, you must show support for the employee and prove that you respect their authenticity.
However, exaggerated sympathy is just as uncalled for as a dismissive reaction to tears. Men are particularly grateful when their “mixed-up” emotions are not made the centre of attention.
At the same time, an objective reaction avoids the situation where employees consciously use tears to get their own way. A senior manager or executive who constantly gives in to the tears of the same employee not only loses credibility but also sets colleagues against the employee due to his unfavourable leadership style. The consequences: more tension and further tears.