I have been a first-time manager now for five months (with 5 directs and about 6 others who I assign work to but report to other managers) and I have handled one sexual harassement situation, one employee leaving the company and two employees crying during the O3s. The company I work for is high-stress without a doubt...much of this due to poor upper-management in my opinion.

I am just not sure how to respond to an employee when he/she cries. One because of the stress load of the job the other because this person feels they are being sent out to Siberia (metaphorically speaking--I do not to intend to offend our Siberian friends).

I am not an emotional person--I do not get angry easily, I am not the estatically happy type, nor do I cry. I want my DRs to understand that I care about them and their well-being.

How do you empathetically handle employees when they cry? I appreciate any feedback you can give. Thanks.

TomW's picture
Training Badge

What kind of feedback are you giving that's making them cry?

eschenk's picture

Good question. It's not my feedback (at least I do not think). In the first situation the employee was relaying how much stress they were under because of the departure of another employee on the team. In the second situation the employee was telling me that they feel they are being pushed aside and others were being considered/promoted over them.

Employees crying is very uncomfortable for me, but I want to do what is right and respond correctly for them despite my discomfort.

Any suggestions?

bflynn's picture

Two pieces of advice I can offer.

Do the humane thing and sit with them quietly and respectfully. If you have tissues, you might offer them. Most people will be over crying within a minute or two and they will likely be embarrassed at it. Push it aside, there is nothing to be embarrassed about for either you or them.

Remember your position as manager. You can offer some comfort, but avoid much (any?) physical contact. Just being present and respectful is enough.

When they appear done, ask if they're OK. Take time and don't rush it. Remember that crying is sometimes involuntary. It is a release of emotion and stress. As humans, we will all do it at times, even the toughest nut.


eschenk's picture

Thanks for the advice. I think I am ok with handling the resolution--e.g. reducing the stressload on the first employee and making sure the second employee is considered properly for any changes in duties and promotions.

It is the emotional stuff of which I am unsure. I care very deeply for the well-being of my DRs both in the workplace and in life, I am just not sure how to show it properly in a professional situation. I am concerned they may think I am aloof or uncaring because I don't tend to react.

Again, thanks for the input.


WillDuke's picture
Training Badge

I keep a box of tissues handy. When they cry, I offer them one. They need a moment to gather themselves. I don't rush it, I give them that moment. I don't try to fumble around with words to prove that I care. I trust they know that from our relationship.

Once they have gathered themselves again, then we resume our conversation.

Relax, don't rush.

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

Brian's given you some very good advice here.

And, you show care and concern at work the same way you do anywhere. Sure, there's some sensitivity to touching, but I think most managers overreact to that. Fear of a lawsuit oughtn't stop us from hugging someone who is struggling.


eschenk's picture

Thanks all for your advice--it confirmed what my gut instinct was telling me to do. In both cases that's pretty much what I did (minus the tissues b/c on both occasions we were in a small conference room that had none).[/list]

rthibode's picture

I agree with the other comments. I would add, if possible, to provide for the DR's privacy. In my case, this just means closing my office door so people passing by won't see/hear the DR crying.

Depending on why they're crying, I might also ask if there is anything I can do to support them. For example, if they are at breaking point because of a deadline that doesn't really have to be met, I may offer an extension (e.g., if they haven't yet handed in their self-evaluation notes or something like that).

jhack's picture

Hate to sound hard-nosed one here, but be careful of rewarding crying behavior by extending deadlines. Your direct may (subconsciously, of course) find that exposing emotion in the workplace yields results, and you will see an increase in this behavior.

Not that you shouldn't address the underlying causes of the stress, but rather don't link the emotional display with the reduction in workload / deadline extension.


rthibode's picture

You're right, John, I am a bit soft. My staff are university students, and I usually only have them for a couple of years, and only part-time. It's important that they keep their grades up, so I do cut them some slack if they melt down around midterms or finals. But only on deadlines that are kind of arbitrary (like completing all their peer observation hours). I'm very clear they can't in any way let their own students down.

By the way, I like your DISC profile ;-)

senekka's picture

Hello, Thanks for podcasts and this website. Very very helpful. I am first time writer here but constant reader. I have a difficult situation at work. I am a first time manager and have been in this position for 1 year 9 months. One of my directs has a habit of crying at 1:1 every time when I give her improvement feedback. She is my first employee that I hired as a hiring manager. I have 6 other directs besides her. After 6 months of being employed she cried for the first time at our 1:1. While she was doing just OK, I found necessary to indicate the areas for improvement. She cried. I offered her tissue and water which she refused. Her complaint was that I don't value her as an employee and don't say thank you enough (this is not true). I told that I feel terribly uncomfortable when she cries and I can't continue to talk until she calms down. I was devastated by her cry. I was stressed. I realized at that time she is very super sensitive and I was very cautious when giving her feedback for the next months. The same story happened few months later during her annual performance review. After this happened again, I went to HR and told them about the situation. Few more months passed and it happened again for the third time. There was never yelling during our 1:1, actually I never yell. Just as always I praised her contributions then indicated her improvement areas. I went to HR again and my boss got involved as well. My boss, HR and myself met for a talk. We decided that HR will be present at our next 1:1 with this employee to see what is going on and straighten our communication and I agreed. Then HR, the crying employee and I met and she was crying all 40 mins meeting with HR!!! I was exhausted emotionally by then. But I have second thoughts now. I'll try to explain. Now I am emotionally afraid of her. I don't want to see her again crying and don't see myself able to give her performance improvement feedback. I just can't. I don't see any point in having 1:1 even with HR present. I can't see her crying again. And I am devastated. I helped her a lot to learn the job and any other possible ways but it just does not work out. What do I do now? Fire her? Performance wise she is just OK, definitely she has areas for improvements, but who does not? She is super sensitive to any feedback, even her peers notice it and prefer to go to someone else to ask questions than to her. Please any advise. Apologies if my text is confusing. I am really really upset!