Finweek English Edition - - MANAGEMENT -

Steve Easley, the owner of Breakrock Con­sul­tants, is fa­mil­iar with em­ployee tears. “Over my ca­reer I have had em­ploy­ees that have cried in my of­fice for ev­ery­thing from a bad eval­u­a­tion to a per­sonal tragedy,” he says. A few years ago, he was work­ing on a con­tract to pro­vide ac­count­ing ser­vices to a US govern­ment agency. His team of 10 ac­coun­tants worked in a sin­gle large room so that ev­ery­one was within earshot of one an­other. One day, one of his em­ploy­ees, Jane, came in to work up­set. “I could tell she was chok­ing back tears,” he says. When he asked if she was okay, she said yes but didn’t look him in the eye. He knew some­thing was go­ing on, so he asked an­other em­ployee – a young woman whom he sus­pected Jane might open up to – if she would check in with her. This woman found out that Jane’s son was in le­gal trou­ble. Steve asked the young woman to con­vey to Jane that she could take time off to deal with the sit­u­a­tion, but Jane re­fused. She con­tin­ued to come in vis­i­bly up­set. “I was be­side my­self,” Steve says. “For the first time ever her work be­gan to suf­fer, and I knew this added to her emo­tions.”

He called a team meet­ing – with­out Jane – and ex­plained that she was hav­ing a hard time, with­out di­vulging what he knew. He sub­tly asked that they give her space and em­pa­thy. Soon af­ter, he left for a lunch meet­ing. He later found out that while he was gone, Jane broke down and ex­plained the sit­u­a­tion to her col­leagues, who con­soled her. “When I re­turned, the whole mood of the room had changed,” Steve re­calls. “Jane looked less dis­traught, and the team seemed happy and pro­duc­tive.” Steve be­lieves the crying was a good thing – one em­ployee got the sup­port she needed, and the rest of the team got a boost from help­ing her.

Amy Gallo is a con­tribut­ing edi­tor at Har­vard Busi­ness Re­view.

© 2013 Har­vard Busi­ness School Pub­lish­ing Corp. Dis­trib­uted by The New York Times Syn­di­cate.

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