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

Sean Peek
Sean Peek

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. 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. This can be overwhelming and an issue that you're unsure how to handle as a manager. Whether this is through tears, anger, or anxiety, how you deal with these situations is vital for both the team member 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 appropriately communicating with them is essential.

How to identify a disgruntled employee

There will inevitably be at least a few employees in every workplace who don’t necessarily enjoy being there. However, what makes one a disgruntled employee is their expression of dissatisfaction. They want everyone to know they aren’t satisfied, and they’ll likely act out because of it. They may exhibit a negative attitude, often leave early or not show up to work at all, refrain from getting involved in work activities or projects, or talk down to other employees.

While these employees may not be angry because of something that happened at work, some have negative work experiences that can change their outlook on the company and/or its employees. Some reasons for their anger may be lack of support from managers or team members, an argument with a co-worker, insufficient pay, stress or unclear expectations for assigned tasks.

You must listen carefully to employees’ concerns. Encourage them to vocalize any frustrations they might have so that problems can be addressed quickly. You should also be prepared to handle any unexpected issues so the angry team member doesn’t lash out in ways that could upset other employees, sabotage products/services, or disrupt customer relations.

FYIFYI: If you are aware of the signs of a disgruntled employee, you have a better chance of addressing the issues quickly and effectively.

How to deal with upset employees

Always remain calm and listen.

Sometimes, a team member 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 essential. 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 recognized, 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 specific company policies, such as an acceptable use policy, that they may have broken is not helpful. In all likelihood, they probably know the 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 because they've done something wrong and are 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 during your meeting.

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 their 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 them wrong. Also, avoid trivializing their 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 firm 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, such as confronting a member of staff about a subject that may lead to strong emotions. However, these conversations should always be handled privately.

Creating a scene in front of other staff members is not helpful for anybody. If an employee wants to confide in another team member about what happened, they can do so. However, they may want to keep it private, and you need to respect this.

TipTip: Give employees time to let their emotions out before sending them off to a meeting or interacting with others.

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.

Stuart Hearn contributed to the writing and research in this article.

Image Credit: BongkarnThanyakij / Getty Images
Sean Peek
Sean Peek Contributing Writer
Sean Peek has written more than 100 B2B-focused articles on various subjects including business technology, marketing and business finance. In addition to researching trends, reviewing products and writing articles that help small business owners, Sean runs a content marketing agency that creates high-quality editorial content for both B2B and B2C businesses.