HRM Five: How to handle employee emotions

Crying a river is sometimes good for the soul, but the right kind of working environment can mitigate stress and other high-key emotions.
By: | April 8, 2018

HRM Five offers five important points on everything you wanted to know about HR practices today, but were too afraid to ask. Check out previous editions of HRM Five here.


Everyone knows keeping emotions in check isn’t always easy. But in high-stakes, high-stress situations, can you blame employees for getting sad, frustrated, or otherwise emotional?

A recent survey from staffing firm Accountemps says that more than four in 10 workers (45%) have admitted to crying at work.

Fortunately, perhaps, about the same proportion of CFOs (44%) said shedding tears is acceptable as long as it’s not an everyday occurrence.

Almost a third of either demographic (30% and 31% respectively) noted that “crying has no negative effect — it shows you’re human”.

From the HR perspective, it’s important to keep that in mind when dealing with employees who are expressing feelings of sadness or frustration while on the job.

Here are five scenarios that can test even the coolest head, with advice for how HR can help workers handle each with professionalism and emotional intelligence:

1. The overbearing boss 

With any luck, your organisation doesn’t have any mico-managing leaders who keep a too-close eye on their subordinates and give them little control over projects. But more likely than not, there are a few managers around who fit the bill.

Such behaviour can cause more stress and decreased morale and productivity. In this situation, it’s imperative to encourage and enable open and honest communication within the office. Encourage employees and managers to have frequent one-to-one meetings to discuss work, but also, if necessary, talk through ways that they can mutually build and maintain trust within their professional relationships.


2. The combative coworker 

No one can get along with everyone. This is an unfortunate reality. Your organisation might have a great workplace culture, but there are still going to be office dynamics that just don’t work.

Encourage employees to always consider their co-workers perspectives, and to clearly communicate their own positions on business problems. Hearing another point of view can resolve disputes more quickly.


3. The innocent error

We’ve all done this — realising as soon as we’ve hit the “Send” button on an e-mail that there is a mistake.

Instead of yelling out in frustration and distracting others, employees should be encouraged to keep a level head and address the situation — for instance, sending a follow-up note or speaking their manager sto apologise and correct the issue.

But before workers can do this, they need to know that they’re in an environment where mistakes aren’t necessarily catastrophic issues. Of course, they should always strive to be professional, but if an environment is so wraught with tension that legitimately inconsequential errors are a problem, then you might need to re-look at the culture within the organisation.


4. The personal emergency

Private struggles, such as a family crisis or health concerns, are bound to affect every individual’s work life at some point in their careers.

If you haven’t already, it’s worth implementing flexible work policies to help employees cope with such situations. This will make them more inclined towards transparency — rather than bottling things up and pulling their teams due to poor performance or presenteeism/absenteeism — which is to everyone’s benefit.


5. The unbearable workload

Juggling too many tasks can lead to burnout. During “peak seasons”, this might be unavoidable, but it’s not sustainable in the long-term. HR, especially business partners, need to be in close dialogue with the business to make sure that departments and teams have enough manpower.

Headcounts might need to be added — or perhaps the company will need to make use of a contingent workforce of freelancers, part-timers, and contract-workers.

It’s also a good idea to work closely with managers to keep an eye on how employees are performing. Anyone who is taking on work far above their pay grade should be recognised and rewarded — or you’ll risk losing a strong contributor to your organisation.