Walking by Sean’s cubicle, his supervisor noticed his shoulders were shaking as if he was crying. She paused, uncertain if she should speak to him, then walked on.
If you’re one of those rare individuals who know how to support a distraught employee with grace, congratulations! Everyone else; you’re not alone. Most managers feel awkward and uneasy when an employee starts crying at work. Sadly, most of us have or will face moments like this.
According to Lyra Health, 40% of workers experienced mental health issues this past year, double the year before. Some of the issues that concern them:
- Being exposed to Covid-19 at work
- Balancing personal and family needs
- Uncertainty about the future of their employment
- Adapting to a different workspace and/or work schedules
- Adjusting to new communication tools and dealing with technical difficulties
Being prepared for such emotional situations will enable you to support your employees and allow you both to move forward.
Comfort rather than cringe
Treat the employee with empathy. How would you want to be treated if you were the one crying? Ask, “Are you all right? Do you need a minute?” then let them say what they need to say. Offer a glass of water or tissue if a box is handy. Physical contact like a hug or a pat on the shoulder isn’t necessary. Just being respectful and sensitive may be enough.
Express concern, but don’t pry
Don’t assume you know all the details. Asking “Is there anything you want me to know?” or “How can I help?” may open a dialogue if they want to share. As a manager, you have no need to know the issue unless it impacts the person’s work or performance. Respect their privacy and show compassion.
Consider your role
It’s possible that the tears are work-related, or that something you said or did cause them to become upset. While this may be the case, don’t beat yourself up – rather consider it a growth opportunity for both of you. Be frank but tactful in discussing the issue, so your employee feels supported and heard.
Seamlessly returning to business as usual, while still being empathetic, will make it easier for you and your direct report to refocus and move past the moment.
Follow up and move forward
Timeliness is key, follow up privately to be sure the employee is dealing constructively with whatever the problem is; an hour might be too soon, but a week might come off as thoughtless. Perhaps ask the employee when he/she would like to talk again. If they confided about a personal situation, be sure to ask about it occasionally. If the issue was work-related, wait longer to see if the changes you implemented have made things easier.
You may find it necessary to suggest some outside resources that may help the employee work through the issues.
Employees who are thriving ensure your business will thrive.
It’s never easy to see someone crying at work but remaining calm can help the person gather themselves more quickly and move through an uncomfortable situation graciously and professionally.
The road is easier together,