Handling upset or angry employees

HR professionals in all industries and sectors come across emotional, angry or upset employees in the context of formal disciplinary or grievance hearings – it’s par for the course. The topic under discussion in a disciplinary, grievance or other hearing may be a sensitive issue. Some employees may react negatively, by becoming upset, angry or verbally abusive.

But in a small business relationships are more personal, which means any kind of formal hearing can feel ‘worse’ for those involved than in a bigger organisation. Grievances tend to only be raised in a small business as an absolute last resort, meaning the employee in question is often right at the end of their tether and very upset. Business owners take it all very personally, meaning the whole thing can be a cauldron of emotions waiting to spill over.

The great news is that if you are an external HR consultant, your presence alone often has the result of reducing the likelihood or impact of heightened emotions on a fraught hearing environment. Having you there can take the heat out of the discussion and many times we’ve had clients warn us that a hearing is likely to be very difficult only to find that everyone is actually on their best behaviour.

But if this isn’t the case, there are several things that you can do as an HR professional to ensure that the meeting remains productive and help the manager or business owner chairing the meeting to keep things on track.

Remind the manager beforehand to remain calm

It is the manager’s responsibility to achieve a successful outcome to the meeting and this can be done only if he or she remains calm and refrains from bringing his or her own feelings into play. The manager should remain objective and refrain from making any personal accusations or becoming angry.

If you feel the manager is veering from this stance, you should interject, perhaps by suggesting a 5 minute time out, or simply by bringing the conversation back to the right level. Just you simply breaking that rising tension can remind the manager of the need to stay calm.

Let the employee “vent”

It is important that the employee calms down. However, allowing the employee some time to vent his or her anger or frustration, gives the employee space and a feeling of being listened to. The employee may also reveal information that may help in finding a resolution to the problem.

Once the employee has had reasonable opportunity to vent, or if you feel things are going off track, if the manager is not bringing things back on track, you can intervene to do so.

Remember the reason for the meeting

It is easy for the employee to veer into other topics if he or she feels uncomfortable, or is looking for excuses for his or her behaviour. To get back on track, the manager should remind him- or herself of the reason for the meeting and the ideal outcome. Again, if the manager is not doing this, you can do so.

Adjourn the meeting

If it’s getting over-heated and unproductive, suggest a brief break for everyone to calm down and collect their thoughts.

If you’re an external HR consultant, you will then have the advantage of being able to walk away and not be personally involved – one of the fantastic bonuses that comes with this type of work as compared to working in-house where you know everyone involved and have to continue to work with them!

If you’re a HR professional looking for greater flexibility and a better work life balance, do get in touch.