People are people, and crying is something that people do. Literally, there is a connection between the brain and the tear ducts that gets triggered during severe emotional reactions. As people, when we see another person crying, that alone can trigger an emotional response. In an office or work environment, a crying employee can be both a cause for concern and a disruption.
As a manager or business owner, or even a fellow employee, if you see an employee or co-worker crying, knowing what to do could be critical, both for the crying employee and business. If an employee is crying at work, an employer does not act out of line by offering support, but if the employer isn't careful, a situation can be made worse.
Below are 3 tips on how to handle a crying employee.
1. Be a Human Being
Show the person empathy like you would a friend or someone outside of work. If you can't, or feel the employee would not appreciate you personally, solicit the help of an employee that may be able to relate with them. Often, if a boss just fired an employee, that employee will not want to be consoled by that same boss or management. If HR or EAP is available, you can use them after a firing.
A crying employee may just need space, but there may be something more going on. Understanding that complexity can be helpful when trying to figure out how to approach the employee. For instance, telling a crying employee to go into a conference room or private office can potentially illicit a different response than letting them know a private space is available for them.
2. Give the Crier the Right Space
Letting a crying employee know that an empty office, or conference room for privacy, is available to them and they can take the time they need, is generally a good idea. If there are no private rooms, get them away from other employees or customers and find a more private area for them. Also, you can ask them if they want to be alone, or would like some company, or if they would like to talk.
By doing the above, you are giving the crying employee the type of space they need. Some people need someone to talk to when they cry, others just want privacy, while others might just want someone to sit with them. They'll tell you if you ask. If you're going to talk with them, don't judge or offer opinions, just listen and ask how you can help them.
3. Compose the Team
When a person returns from a crying break, a team may want to know what was going on, which could compound embarrassment on top of all the emotions from crying. Not to mention that office gossip is generally disruptive, particularly if it involves another employee's emotional state. Also, gossiping employees may cause the crying employee to become emotional again.
An employer can stem the tide of office gossip by having policies against gossip, or, as one author reflected, by just hanging around the office after the incident.
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