A Tempest In A Teapot

How to manage the emotional employee

You’ve just promoted a staff member. Another employee, who thought he should have gotten the nod, is taking out his frustration on the water cooler. As his supervisor, how do you short-circuit this outburst and nip any further tantrums in the bud?

“First, understand that there is a greater range of emotions coming into the workplace today. With job pressures increasing, some employees feel threatened and insecure,” says Virginia F. Bass, corporate trainer and owner of By Design Training, an Exton, Pennsylvania-based personal and professional development firm. “It’s important to make yourself aware of the problem and be sensitive and responsive to the employee’s feelings.” Here are ways to quell the situation:

  • Look for the signs. Is your company reorganizing? Change can trigger sparks. The problem may also be personal. You must be sensitive to the red flags before an upheaval.
  • Offer an ear. After the outburst, take the employee to a neutral place and listen carefully. Ask open-ended questions to get to the underlying cause. If it’s personal, resist giving advice. “Be empathetic and supportive, but avoid adopting the problem,” says Bass.
  • Provide a support system. Suggest employee-sponsored career development, stress management or flex-work programs. If none exists at your job, recommend community resources.
  • Follow up. When the smoke has cleared, check to see if the problem is resolved. More important, ask what you can expect from the employee in the future. By setting goals, you’ll have more harmony in the workplace and possibly a loyal and productive employee to boot.
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