Best Strategies to Manage an Emotional Employee

Managers often brush emotional issues aside as are unworthy of their time and attention, but the costs of not dealing with these problems is often far greater. Employees end up focusing less on their work and more on their emotional issues.

When an employee is unable control their emotions at work, be it due to issues at home or conflict in the office, it can wreck havoc in the workplace – often resulting in overreactions all around.

So, how do you as the boss manage an emotional employee at work? If you ignore the problem, it won’t go away on its own because the employee will focus on what is upsetting them more than their work. Plus, if it spills over to other employees, the productivity of the whole workplace can be affected.

Here are tips on how to manage an emotional employee and restore the balance of the workplace:

Read the emotional cues and signals

Keep your employees’ emotions and feelings in mind. If you pay close attention to the workplace, you can often find emotional signals which your staff is giving off.

These could be body language, tone of voice and facial expressions. Pay close attention so that you can tell how your employees are doing.

Empathise with those who are hurt

Employees who are in distress are usually met with contempt, indifference and impatience in the workplace. Managers often belittle or ridicule the employee’s issue or tell them to “deal with it”.

Most people consider tears to be unprofessional, but that only because we forget that being human, at the end of the day emotions can get even the best of us. We are all vulnerable to uncontrollable emotions.

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None of these are responses help the employee in need at all and just hurt them even more. Instead, view emotional outbursts as opportunities to listen, empathise with, and show compassion to a hurting employee.

It doesn’t have to be a long conversation; even just a few minutes can be enough. When you find out what the problem is and show empathy, it can strengthen your relationship with the employee.

Find out what triggered them

There’s always something behind an emotional employee’s response. Dig into what is triggering this kind of behaviour from them. What are they going through that is causing them to act like this?

Avoid making any assumption on why they are responding how they are. Instead, listen actively to the employee and all their issues. Making them feel respected and heard helps you manage an emotional employee.

Turn the problem into an opportunity

Once you understand the problem, the next step in how to manage an emotional employee is to transform it into an opportunity for positive change.

A problem caused by an emotional situation often can’t be solved by the same person who’s reacting to it. You can help them find the solution, get them the help that they may need, or resolve the conflict which may be causing the problem.

You can also refer them to where they can get the help that they need to overcome their emotional obstacles – like employee assistance programs, coaching, and conflict skills/communication training.

Give them space and time

Sometimes providing space and time for employees to deal with what’s going on at their own pace is the most effective way to manage an emotional employee and help them move beyond the situation in a constructive way, especially when they are going through extreme emotions or distress.

This can take the form of a break in the work day, a day or week off, or making their workload lighter for some time.

Keep their dignity

As a manager you should make it a point to ensure that emotional employees, especially those who end up crying in the workplace, still have their dignity kept intact.

Never make an employee feel bad about crying and ridicule or even worse punish them for it. Most employees are very embarrassed when they become emotional and managers should allow them to keep their self respect by not piling onto that.

Manage an emotional employee

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Reword your messages, fix your tone

One of the commonest sources of emotional anguish and problems in organisations is poor choice of vocabulary and tone during communication. You should always think through your message and tone (be it an email thread, a face-to-face meeting or a phone conversation) before you communicate it.

Consider all the possible emotional responses that it may provoke in the people who will receive it. With all this in mind, you should make an effort to always reframe your messages and tones in a positive way because this one of the most proactive steps that you can take to manage an emotional employee.

Prepare your employees for change

Organisational change often causes adverse emotional responses in employees. You should therefore put in place ways to prevent negative emotional effects, as well as address and minimise emotional issues when they occur.

Also, the best way to handle organisational change is to discuss it with the staff it will have an effect on. Be straight and honest about the transition and give your staff the chance to share their concerns so that you can take them into consideration as you effect the change.

Stay in touch

Make sure to keep emotionally connected to your employees. Ask questions to gauge how they are feeling in meetings and become attuned and sensitive to what makes them frustrated, sad, or angry.

Encourage employees to treat each other with compassion and care throughout the workplace. You should also make sure to always follow up on how they are doing since their last issue in case of one.

Train your managers

Finally, create training programs for your supervisors and managers to learn communication skills, positive management behaviour, conflict management, and other leadership topics.

These are the tools they need to help them better manage an emotional employee in the workplace as well as lead the employees more effectively such that fewer emotional issues emerge in the workplace in the first place.

Team dynamics

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In Summary

Managing an emotional employee in the workplace may seem like an uphill task but the above tips can help you get navigate the situation with more awareness such that the negative effects are mitigated while the opportunities for learning and improvement are maximised.

Gerald Ainomugisha

Gerald Ainomugisha

Gerald is a freelance writer with a pen that is keen for entrepreneurship, business and technology. When he isn't writing insightful articles on employee engagement and corporate culture, Gerald can be found writing for a number of media outlets.