By Michael Barrell
The post title pretty much says it all – 10 Ways to Manage Angry Employees. This is a quick and dirty look at some very easy to implement, evidence-based tactics to not only make you a better leader – but to also make your team a happier and more efficient one.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that most of us have wanted to scream on the job at some point. And no doubt the same goes for your employees. But get this, more than one in 10 have also wanted to strike a co-worker but didn’t. And the kicker – that cheeky stat came in before COVID-19 even existed.
But now, as the COVID pandemic relentlessly marches on, all signs point towards workplace anger levels being higher than ever.
So can you – or your business – do anything to help?
Well actually yes – since most employee frustrations that do arise are often concerned with the moves a business has made or must make moving forward – like layoffs, pay cuts, or just bad bosses who lack empathy), there’s no shortage of ideas when it comes to strategies and tactics that a business or manager can implement to reduce employee anger – so here’s 10 of them.
Just a heads up – the first 7 tactics relate directly to dealing with an individual employee. The final 3 tactics are more pre-emptive, business-wide strategies you can employ to minimise the chances of employee anger arising in the first place.
First up, in your quest to create cooler heads, thank the employee for their feedback. Specifically, let them see you acknowledge the energy, time and courage it would have taken them to let you know about the situation, and thank them for it.
Number 2 - Empathize with the employee’s frustration
Angry employees, without exception, want to be understood and they want to feel justified in their beliefs. Now don’t worry - this doesn’t require a long, drawn out conversation. Just say something like: “I can imagine how frustrating this must have been for you,” – and be sure to be genuine about this, as the last thing you want to do is come across as patronizing.
Now these first two steps have cost you nothing. It’s 20 seconds of your time to say effectively 2 sentences – one to say thanks and one to acknowledge frustration. But what you have done in that 20 seconds is immediately bring down the temperature of the discussion.
Now number 3 is to ask for the details.
Here, you want to ask the employee to outline what has caused their displeasure. What events led up to it. In doing this, you want to assure them that you want to understand the details of what happened and, importantly, the more information they can provide, the more quickly you will to be able offer a remedy.
Number 4 is to apologize.
And no, I’m not suggesting here that you apologise for things that are not your fault, or for things that were beyond your control. Nor am I suggesting that you admit some element of fault on your part.
I’m talking here about making an honest apology to your employee for the frustration they have experienced. And don’t just do a quick “I’m sorry” too. Take the time to acknowledge that your employee is taking effort and energy to help you improve your business. And let them know, in a genuine way, you’re sorry for the inconvenience, displeasure, or discomfort they experienced.
Number 5 - Take action.
This is the crux of the way forward –what the employee truly wants to know: What are YOU going to do about it? And remember that you are working to win back the employee’s trust – so you want to get this done right.
I find this part easiest when I think about it in terms of a customer complaint – just like many customer complaints, it is at this moment that you want to surprise and delight. Only this time, it’s the employee that you want to delight. For better or worse, whatever you choose to do here, it is this action that the employee will likely remember most.
Number 6 is all about Following up.
Here, you want to be sure to say something along the lines of “I’ll follow up with you in xyz days so we can be sure we get this right and it doesn’t happen again.” And of course, keep to that promise of following up – otherwise you’ll be back at square 1, dealing with a whole new set of employee anger.
Lastly – on the employee front – is number 7. Which is to handle your own anger.
Workplace culture doesn’t live in a vacuum, so the odds are that you are often feeling similar forms of frustration to your employees. If their workloads have increased, then yours probably has too, if team dynamics have gone a little sour, then you are probably feeling that as well. But when anger does inevitably rear its head, try to be mindful and take a moment.
Look, unless you’re the Dalai Lama, we all have our moments. But you want to avoid riding your emotions in the moment and falling into what could be an all out screaming match across the office. Instead, bite your lip, suppress that fit of anger and give yourself a moment to properly think about your next steps.
Now that’s the first 7 ways to manage angry employees done. The final 3 – as I said at the start - are more proactive, business-wide strategies that you can employ right now to minimise the chances of employee anger arising in the first place.
First up – or number 8 in our list here – is to listen.
Get this - My 3 year old daughter Madison gets this not-so-rare affliction, usually at about 4:30 in the afternoon, just before dinner, that she creatively terms the “grumpy-hungries”. She’s hungry, and she’s damn grumpy about it. Fair enough I reckon.
Well employees of most organisations are vulnerable to the grumpy-hungries too – only their hunger isn’t usually food-related, it’s about a hunger for being listened to.
So your job, as boss, is to find out the issues that are most frustrating to your employees, then work to solve them before they cause employees to revolt. Assuming that employees are worried about overwork is one thing, it’s an entirely different thing to discover that they are worried specifically about the effect on their job roles that a recent layoff may have.
So you really need to ask for specific pain points. This not only helps employees feel heard (and less angry) but it also helps you as a leader to break down problems into more manageable tasks.
Number 9 is to communicate frequently.
As boss, you need to make it a priority to stay in contact with your employees, giving updates about the status of the business and workplace environment. This is particularly so when you have a workforce that operates remotely. But don’t just give update, make an effort to infuse into your comms a sense of realness, clarity and regularity.
And lastly, but not least, number 10 is to be flexible.
A good example here is flexible work hours – being flexible in this way is one of the most effective ways a business can express empathy to its employees. The line that separates work life and personal life is deteriorating and that gets on everyone’s nerves. So, where it’s possible, afford your employees the changes to schedule their own workdays. For instance, an employee could work from 9 to 3pm, take a few hours off to pick the kids up from school and get dinner sorted, then resume work for a few hours after dinner.
Now don’t get me wrong – this won’t work in all instances. Before becoming a lawyer and then running my own businesses, I practiced as a Registered Nurse for well over a decade. So I know that instituting flexi-time in a place like a hospital inpatient unit or an operating theatre really isn’t that practical. What I’m saying here is that, if you can, then offering flexibility in work hours to your employees can pay enormous dividends in staff wellbeing and productivity. So if you can do it, you should do it.
There you have it - 10 very simple and easily implemented ways to manage angry employees
Follow these steps and you can take control of most instances of employee anger, turn an angry employee into an engaged employee, and improve the way things are done across the workforce.
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