Do You Know How to Handle Emotional Employees?

How to Handle Emotional Employees Like a Boss


Emotional outbursts in the workplace can be uncomfortable. As a manager, do you know how to handle emotional employees?

Asking your team to leave their emotions at the door is an unrealistic request. We are human and some level of emotion is necessary and unavoidable. What happens, however, when the employee is overly emotional and it becomes unprofessional?

You can replace your staff with emotionless robots, or you can learn how to effectively and professionally defuse emotional outbursts in the office.


Responding is Crucial

Emotions can weigh on your bottom line. We’re not just talking about the office Kleenex bill either. There’s a trickle-down of costs associated with emotional employees.

Imagine an employee sitting at their desk, struggling with a high level of emotion. Most likely, they’re:

  • Not focused on work
  • Slowing down the productivity of those around them
  • Affecting the emotions of those around them
  • Contributing to a chaotic work culture


That’s not to say their actions are intentional. But believing an employee’s emotional issues aren’t affecting your bottom line is risky business. As a manager, how can you handle an employee’s emotion when it becomes extreme?

Four common examples and some tips on responding:


1| Crying Cathy

Do you find yourself avoiding confrontation with an employee who tends to express their emotions with tears? Crying may be their natural response to stress, or their personal life may be in shambles. They may even be embarrassed of the attention the tears bring.

If you manage a Crying Cathy, don’t avoid them if they’re having an episode. There’s no need to pity them or offer to fix the cause of their distress though. Simply acknowledging the tears is usually enough to start pushing the situation in a more positive direction.

2| Tim the Ticking Timebomb

If you have an employee with anger issues, safety should be your first concern. Read our tips on maintaining a safe workplace. But if you don’t feel that the employee is a threat, focus on enforcing your company’s policies that discourage such behavior.

If the outburst is work-related, such as a scheduling error, thank the employee for bringing an issue to your attention. Empathize with them, apologize, and take appropriate actions to remedy the situation.

If the anger is coming from somewhere outside the office, offer help. This is the perfect time to refer the employee to your Employee Assistance Program. At the same time, remind them that if their behavior doesn’t change, there could be consequences.

3| Nervous Nate

An employee who tends to overanalyze and excessively worry about every work-related decision can exhaust everyone around them. Their anxiety can be paralyzing and difficult to address, especially with the nationwide discussion on mental health in the workplace.

A Nervous Nate is so focused on what could be lurking in the future that they can’t focus on the present. When managing a worried employee, ask them to brainstorm solutions to their concerns. This may be difficult for them at first but as time goes on, they’ll build confidence in their decision making and abilities to handle a crisis, even if it only plays out in their head.

4| Debbie Downer

One pessimistic employee can contaminate an entire optimistic team. When a Debbie Downer starts to enter a negative downward spiral, avoid attempting to cheer them up. This approach typically backfires.

Instead, the best way to handle a team member who focuses solely on the negative aspects of life is to simply call them out on their behavior. Also, let them know that you can appreciate how they’re feeling. Give them time to process their feelings but let them know this can’t be done at the expense of their coworkers.


When Nothing Works

Counseling employees might not be in your job description. But as a manager, you play an important role in setting affecting the organization’s work culture. If an emotional employee is causing too much of a distraction or is putting other team members in danger, the issue needs to be addressed. It is possible the employee is not the best fit for the position or the organization itself.

Don’t be afraid to let emotions through the door. But do set boundaries and establish processes on how to handle emotional employees that allow everyone to perform their job safely and to the best of their abilities.


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