How-To Manage a Tearful Employee

A 2016 study in the British Journal of Social Psychology asked 1,000 people their perceptions of a person pictured crying versus the same photograph with the tears edited out. The journal reported that study participants perceived the crying person not only as sadder when pictured with tears but also as less competent.  

Despite the potential implications for perceived competency, it is not uncommon for people to cry at work. A recent Adobe survey of 1,500 U.S. office workers found that 34% of millennials have cried after a performance review, 25% of men, and 18% of women. Supervisors might have experienced an employee crying in their office for any number of reasons, and it can be difficult to achieve the appropriate balance of patience, caring, and professionalism. Here are some helpful suggestions: 

  1. Engage with the employee and let the tears flow, rather than ignoring or judging the person crying. 
  2. Listen and provide words of support. Saying “I understand you are upset” or “It makes sense that this is really important to you” help demonstrate emotional intelligence and empathy.  
  3. Respect boundaries and avoid touching the person.  
  4. Allow the employee to talk and allow moments of silence rather than prying or making assumptions about why the person is upset.  
  5. Give the employee time and a quiet place to recover.   
  6. Only take action if the problem is work-related, and grant time off for major personal problems.
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