BRING IN HELP WHEN YOU NEED IT
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.