Dealing with an upset employee — before damage is permanent

Even your best workers have off days where they’re rude to co-workers, short with customers or maybe even sarcastic or disrespectful to supervisors. Such minor blow-ups are largely unavoidable. But how managers and organizational leaders handle these situations can keep a worker who lost his or her temper from becoming a termination, safety hazard or lawsuit.

The good news: When workers lose their cool with co-workers or managers, chances are they’re finally bringing up an issue they’ve been upset about for a while. The knock-down, drag-out fight might be the last step before the employee or team gets stronger by resolving the issue once and for all.

But that flare-up has to be handled the right way. A few tips:

  • Deal with it right away. If workers are acting out, it means they’ve reached a breaking point. Don’t wait until the worker’s next performance review — or even the next staff meeting. Get the affected workers together as soon as possible and start hashing out solutions.
  • Avoid specific references to the company handbook or legal rules. When people get upset, they get irrational. The rules are important, but they’re not the best way to change workers’ behavior in the heat of an argument.
  • Don’t one-up or belittle the problem. If a worker complains he or she has too much on their plate, pointing out how much work others do probably won’t help the situation. If workers are upset enough to lose their cool, you need to take their problem seriously and try to come up with a solution they’ll be happy with, and
  • Be aware of privacy issues. Some things you can’t talk about in front of other employees. Other times an HR rep should be present. These privacy concerns are easy to spot. More difficult situations involve conflicts between specific workers. Keep an eye out for feuds between co-workers.

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