· Eve Church  · 6 min read

7 Ways to Handle Over-Emotional Employees

If you’re in the unenviable position of having to manage an emotional employee - whether they’re a crier or a shouter - what do you do?

We all like to think that we can keep our emotions in check when we’re in the workplace, but as someone working in Human Resources, or as a manager, you may well have just had your share of emotional employees over the years.

Emotions can manifest themselves in different ways in different people. Some will burst into tears at the slightest provocation - and we’ve all had those angry coworkers who seem to blow up at minor issues such as the printer jamming.

The thing is, these emotional extremes can have a real effect on the workplace. Some find them embarrassing, some frightening, some stressful. The point is, outbursts of emotion never really leave anyone feeling great.

So if you’re in the unenviable position of currently having to manage an emotional employee - what do you do? How can you still get your point across and relay information to someone who is either in floods of tears or screaming at you?

Can you even prepare for these events? As HR or a business leader or supervisor, one of the greatest skills you can have is to be able to manage - and diffuse - emotional employees and emotional conversations in an efficient and productive manner right there and then.

You can talk about the repercussions of their behavior later, if needs be.

With that in mind, here are 7 tips for managing employees who let their emotions get the better of them - time and again.

7 Ways to handle over-emotional employees

1. Have a plan in advance

You know you have someone who is emotionally volatile on your staff. So it pays to plan ahead. Know what triggers this person - is it feedback or criticism? Do they get weepy or do they clench their fists in anger?

Knowing how to give feedback to different personality types will set you in good stead as it will allow you to tailor what you say and how you say it to minimize the meltdown.

2. Try not to take it personally

It’s worth keeping in mind that this person is reacting the way they always react in situations that make them uncomfortable or stressed. It’s not about you - it really is about them.

If you do start to take it personally, you may well become defensive which will only serve to escalate the issue. Keep it cool and professional and remember that, unpleasant or awkward it may be at the time, this person may not be able to help their reaction.

3. Diffuse the situation

There are a few things you can do to try and deescalate the situation. If the tears - or blow-up - are in the middle of the office, ask the individual in question if they would like to move to a more private area where you can carry on your discussion - or they can sit quietly for as long as they need.

Once they’ve calmed down, and if they do want to talk, remain calm and use neutral expressions such as “Can you just tell me a little more about what the problem is - I’m having a hard time understanding.” Do not raise your voice or talk over the employee - it’s your goal here to get them to fall into step with your calm manner.

4. Open with something positive

If you need to give an emotional employee - or indeed, any employee - feedback, start the conversation with a positive observation. Don’t be tempted to launch straight into the negative or the tone will be set for the rest of the conversation.

It may not stop them from becoming emotional later on in the conversation, but hopefully by telling them what a valuable member of the team they are and how great that last piece of work they turned in, will remain with them through the talk and beyond.

5. Be clear in your response

Listen to your upset employee, whatever form that upset takes, and acknowledge their grievance or problem. They might just be venting because they’re stressed out at work or home and that could be the end of it.

If they begin to cry, it’s fair and appropriate to express empathy and to offer them reassurance. However, if they become angry, it is okay to express that you understand why they are frustrated. However, if they start to use bad language or become otherwise offensive or abusive, be crystal clear that this will not be tolerated.

6. Be aware of your own reaction

As mentioned above, it can be easy to become defensive – particularly if someone is angry and blaming you, another manager or the company. Be aware of your tone of voice as well as your body language.

Also consider taking five if you find yourself caught in a Catch-22 type scenario. It can be tempting for managers to grab onto the issue and not let go until it’s resolved, but at this point it might be better to end the conversation by agreeing that, for example, you both want the best for the project, or even taking a short time out.

7. Know when you need outside assistance

Whether an employee is prone to outbursts or it’s out of character, it might not be just because they’re angry or sensitive by nature. There could be external issues that are creating this outpouring of emotion.

And these could well be something that, as a manager, you are not equipped to deal with. Personal problems such as an abusive relationship, illness, financial worries, substance issues, a relationship breakdown…all of these are outside your remit.

Under these circumstances, show empathy but remind yourself that your job is to manage that person in a professional capacity - not to solve issues that are best left to a doctor, social worker or other trained professional. Encourage them to seek help in the right channels and bring in HR if need be.

Being proactive when managing emotional employees 

While someone crying in the office is likely to be embarrassing for them and awkward for everyone else, it’s rarely going to cause an issue - unless it happens frequently in which case it might be time to take it to the next level.

However if another employee is prone to temper tantrums and the warning signs are there that it could get really nasty or even violent, ensuring that your employees, your office and its equipment are safe is paramount.

Even if you’re lucky enough not to have someone volatile on staff right now, it never hurts to formulate a safety plan in the unfortunate event that this is required.

Speak to HR - or if you are HR you may well want to look into safety plans to minimize risk to your people and business.

Managers and employees alike should be trained to spot red flags and there should be a formal procedure for reporting behavior that is worrying or suspicious.

Dealing with overly emotional employees is never going to be fun. But by having a plan in place and knowing how best to approach them and handle the situation is vital if you want your workplace to remain safe, positive and inclusive for all of your employees.

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