5 Ways to Care for Your Employees' Emotions

by Jan Fletcher on December 27, 2011
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Everyone appreciates a cheerful co-worker, but employees often experience negative feelings on the job, too. Episodes of depression, anxiety, or anger can affect your company’s bottom line: The World Health Organization estimates that 35 to 45 percent of workplace absenteeism can be attributed to mental distress. Meanwhile, researchers at Tel Aviv University found that those who described a workplace as “emotionally non-supportive” were 2.4 times more likely to die over the study’s 20-year period, The New York Times reports. Questions posed by researchers included whether or not subjects viewed supervisors and peers as approachable and friendly.

Here are five ways to better care for your employees’ emotions.

  1. Pay attention to body language. Train managers to be more cognizant of other people’s feelings by teaching them to be consciously aware of body language. It’s a strategy already in use by the hospitality industry, Fox News reports. Chrissy Denihan, chief comfort officer of Denihan Hospitality Group, says the company’s body-language expert trains employees in the art of deciphering nonverbal signals. “Reading facial expressions, like anger or happiness, can also provide clues for staff on how best to handle a situation,” she says. The firm uses the same training to enhance hotel security.
  2. Provide privacy. Tough conversations may be better handled off-site. In the article “How to Provide Constructive Criticism” for Inc. Magazine, entrepreneur Stephen Marsh notes that getting away from the office brings a “fresh perspective” to an ongoing conflict in the workplace and can help an employee to maintain emotional control. Human resources professionals often have expertise in handling emotionally charged employees, so consider inviting someone from HR to the meeting.
  3. Emotional recovery post-disaster. Have a plan in place to help employees’ with the emotional trauma that often occurs after a natural disaster or act of violence in the workplace. Psychiatrist Carol S. North says that fostering a vision of hope and “memorializing and commemorating” at critical milestones or dates is important to helping employees emotionally heal from highly traumatic events.
  4. Don’t tolerate gossip. Do encourage empathic actions and lead by example. “Smart companies have a zero-tolerance policy toward gossip,” says Beth Weissenberger, co-founder and vice-chairman of The Handel Group, a coaching firm. She says companies should encourage employees to put the kibosh on backroom kvetching.
  5. Practice the art of engaged listening. Avoid offering homilies to distressed workers. Trite responses often do little to help employees successfully surmount stressful situations. Instead, create an emotionally supportive workplace through warm, genuine engaged listening. This involves giving the person your full, undivided, empathetic attention. Note that this supportive strategy can backfire if you fail to follow through with genuine assistance, which may cause the employee to feel abandoned.
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