When you’ve got a toxic work environment or a problem with the behavior of a particular employee, it can be hard to know how to handle it. How does a manager or HR professional remain appropriate while also taking an employee’s anger into account?
It’s a fine line to tread.
While every business will have its own policies and best practices for dealing with an angry employee, there is some common advice that is applicable to most professional workplace situations. No matter your job, there’s something you can learn from this list.
So, here are 10 tips for dealing with an angry employee in your company!
1. Acknowledge Feelings, Discourage Bad Behavior
Some emotional people experience feelings and emotions more strongly than others, and that’s okay. Whether it’s due to their upbringing, culture, or issues in their personal life, we all deal with our emotions in unique ways.
If an angry employee is getting upset, allow them to be.
However, unacceptable behaviors like shouting and swearing will not be tolerated, and you should treat them as such. If one of your workers starts cursing or becoming inappropriate when complaining to you, say something like:
“It’s okay that you’re angry, but I can’t accept you cursing and shouting.”
Employees want to feel that their voice is being heard, so allow them to feel that way without working themselves up into an aggressive heat-of-the-moment situation that will only hurt them down the line.
2. Don’t Match Their Escalation (But Let Them Vent)
Although you shouldn’t let employees shout and swear in a way that compromises workplace policy or company culture, do allow the angry employee to vent their feelings to you if your safety isn’t at risk.
Everyone gets stressed sometimes, and sometimes we just need to vent our feelings, stress, and frustration to someone who will listen to us.
Some difficult people don’t even need or want a solution from you – they just want to get their anger out, feel a sense of relief, and then continue with their job as usual. Obviously, this depends on the situation at hand, but it can happen.
3. Try To See Things From Their Perspective
Managers and bosses are so used to looking at work situations in a cold, objective manner that it can be difficult for them to step back and see an issue from the perspective of the employee it affects.
If an angry employee comes to you with concerns and stress, take a step back, put yourself in their shoes, and try to see things from their perspective.
It’s not as easy as it sounds!
HR professionals know how important this is – try to imagine how you would feel if you were them in this exact same situation.
At the same time, you need to see their point of view and try to sympathize WITHOUT sounding patronizing – there’s a fine line between the two.
4. Thank The Team Member For Their Feedback
Even if you’re getting terrible feedback from an angry employee, it’s useful to think about it as constructive criticism. The more that people criticize your work, the more that you’re able to make changes and improve.
Even if your ego is a little damaged, thank the team member for their feedback in a calm, respectful manner. Every complaint from an employee is an opportunity to improve.
It takes a lot of courage to openly complain to your superior, so thank them for their courage and for giving you the opportunity to make changes as a manager.
5. Repeat Their Problem Back To Them (Ensure Good Communication)
Industry experts and HR professionals recommend that after an angry employee has told you about their issue or frustrating situation, you should make sure that you repeat the problem back to them in your own words.
For example, you might say: “So if I understand it correctly, you are annoyed because of situation A with person B and you would like me to help by doing X, Y, and Z”.
Depending on the conversation, you might only have so much information that you can repeat back to them or if things are very heated then it might be best to avoid this altogether.
At is the case with these things, it all depends on the situation and just how worked up the angry employee is.
6. Apologize To The Employee (If Necessary)
Give the employee an honest apology for the frustration they’re feeling (if it pertains to the situation).
Even if the problem they’re having is not directly your fault, say something that shows you’re listening to their voice and you’re sorry to hear what they’re saying.
For example, “I’m sorry to hear that you’re going through that, we need to make some changes in the workplace.”
Again, this can sound condescending if you’re not careful, so make sure you say it in the right way and don’t make it sound forced or insincere. An insincere apology would be worse than no apology at all!
7. Create Actionable Steps For Change
Many angry employee-manager conversations can actually lead to positive changes in the working environment that allow problems to be solved through a series of actions that improve the company culture and workplace environment.
You might not be able to do it immediately, but be sure to take the situation into account and start drafting actionable, tangible tasks that allow you to help make positive changes to your employee and their environment.
For example, it might be something like:
- Rearranging the employee rota
- Making changes to company policy
- Having meetings with problematic team members
- Promoting/demoting an employee
- Buying new/better equipment for the employee
Most problems that an employee brings to your attention will have some sort of solution that can help you to make positive change. Even if you can’t solve their problem instantly, you can start building toward a better future that decreases the issue dramatically.
As well as being good for business, this can help to build your trust and relationship with the disgruntled employee – they’ll be happy that you actually are trying to change for them, even if the changes aren’t always perfect or effective.
Trust from your employees is invaluable, as you should know!
8. Follow Up With the Employee at a Later Date
After a colleague has aired their issue and you have agreed to try and make changes to the workplace in response to the thing they complained about, be sure to follow up with the employee in a private meeting at a later date.
This could be 2 weeks, 2 months later, or even 1 year later – it all depends on the situation that caused the problem and how quickly it can be resolved.
Holding a private meeting with the employee after the fact helps you to see whether your changes have helped and it further reinforces your trust and bond with the worker.
Employees will respect a manager who keeps tabs on them and checks how they’re doing on a regular basis, whether it’s in response to work issues or not.
9. Hold Regular 1-on-1 Review Meetings With Team Members
In a similar vein, it’s handy to hold regular meetings with your employees regardless of whether they are airing their work issues or not.
In fact, this is a great way to get the opinions of every person in your office separately in a 1-on-1 meeting scenario where quieter and shyer employees may feel more confident talking about their problems.
By holding these regular meetings, you’re more likely to catch problems and negative attitude before they become an issue that leads to toxic employees in the first place!
10. If Necessary, Fire Someone
Terminating toxic or problematic employees shouldn’t be your first solution to a business problem, but it may be the necessary solution if things don’t improve.
If one badly-behaved employee is causing grief for everyone else on your team, try your best to warn them and give them chance to change.
However, if change doesn’t come, then you may need to terminate them for the good of the team.
The energy employees put into their company can be catchy, so a poor employee can drag everyone else down with them. If warnings and advice fail, it’s probably best to get rid of the “bad apple” employee in search of someone more positively influential.
It’s for the good of the business.
The Bottom Line – How Can A Manager Handle An Angry Employee?
There are many different reasons that an employee may be angry – from bad coworkers to outdated equipment and improper work systems.
Whatever reasons are behind their dismay, remember to hear their concerns and try your best to see things from their point of view while considering positive changes that could be made based on the feedback.
With these tips, you’ll have the ammunition you need to deal with an angry employee in a manner that is safe, professional, and constructive.