Emotions are part of being human. It's unreasonable for leaders to expect employees to check their feelings at the office door. But how do you distinguish between human nature and a larger organizational issue?
An April report from Accountemps, a staffing service for temporary finance workers, found 45 percent of employees admit to having cried at work. What's more, 52 percent have lost their temper.
It's up to leaders to know when these emotions are a healthy expression or an unhealthy reaction to issues in the workplace.
1. Establish the norm.
Everyone reacts differently under stress. Some people get quiet and try to focus. Others get dramatic. Neither reaction is better or worse than the other. As a leader, you need to be on the lookout for behavior that is uncharacteristic of an individual.
"Any time employees show emotion at work that is outside their norm, it should not be taken lightly by management," said Kim Dawson, director of employee experience for employee engagement platform YouEarnedIt. "Even though only one person is having an emotional response, it doesn't mean that it's not on the minds of other employees as well."
Get to know your employees so you understand their personal emotional baseline. Have regular check-ins with your team to see how everyone is doing. During these meetings, look for red flags, and know these signs could be unusual behavior or extreme forms of an employee's norm.
For instance, if a shy employee stops speaking altogether in meetings, there may be something wrong. Take the time to talk with the individual privately to find out what's going on.
2. Find out the why.
Because you don't know every detail of an employee's life, it can be difficult to understand where certain emotions stem from. Getting to the why can help you discover if emotions are coming from a person's personal life or a factor within the organization.
For example, Amanda Slavin, CEO and founder of marketing agency CatalystCreativ, often has weekly video calls with her team. During one call, she noticed many of the employees were multitasking and not giving the discussion their full attention.
"I became very upset by this behavior, and after a third employee asked a question that was already answered," she said, "I emotionally expressed my frustration, clapping my hands for everyone to stop doing anything other than paying attention to each other."
Having calmed down by the end of the call, Slavin explained why she'd been so upset. She felt employees weren't respecting each other's time and were taking co-workers for granted. Seeing this as a threat to the company culture, Slavin wanted employees to know why the behavior upset her. This allowed employees to understand the bigger picture.
Whether it's you or an employee, always take the time to find -- and explain -- the why behind an emotion. Lead by example and explain what is driving your own emotions. Discuss what caused you to get upset or even overly excited. This will show employees that the workplace is a safe place to express emotional triggers, allowing everyone to be more empathetic.
3. Deal with issues in real time.
When an employee gets emotional, leaders often wait before discussing the issue. While you want to give employees time to cool off, if you wait too long, the employee won't be able to give you completely honest feedback about what happened.
For instance, a few years ago, Aaron Harvey, founder of digital agency Ready Set Rocket, had an employee who was getting increasingly aggressive. Harvey saw this as a red flag not only for the employee but also for the company at large.
"I instructed each team leader to report negative behavior immediately when they saw it so we could handle situations in real time," he said. "By doing so, the episode was fresh in the employee's mind and allowed us to have a more productive conversation about how to handle the situation differently moving forward."
The most important thing for you to do as a leader is to look for trends. For example, if multiple employees are crying after performance reviews, you probably have an issue with management. Look for commonalities and see what problems they reflect about your culture so you can make positive improvements.