How to Handle an Employee Who Cries At Work

Every manager and every HR person has faced tears at work. I will also wager that the majority of managers and HR people have shed some tears at work. We all get caught up in dealing with emotional situations. Sometimes they involve people we know well and as a result it may be difficult to stem the tears. I will admit I have shed a few tears in difficult situations. Here is some guidance for dealing with crying at work.

Great advice

Dan McCarthy offered some great advice in his post A Manager’s Guide to Crying at Work. He offered the following bullet points:

  • It is not about character, it’s about science. There is a reason women may cry more.
  • Keep a box of tissues on your desk at all times. This is sage advice.
  • Offer a brief “time out” to allow the employee to regain their composure. Sometimes the manager or HR person may need the time out. I did.
  • Avoid the “fishbowl.” You should never berate any one in public nor should you ever tell them something that will make them cry. If people feel embarrassed or belittled or “disrespected” they may be more inclined to take action against the company.
  • Be aware that sudden and frequent crying may be a symptom of bigger problems, either at work or home. But remember you are not there to play psychologist. Refer them to your EAP if you feel this may be the issue.
  • Provide coaching if the crying is “inappropriate”. As Dan says, feelings on this issue will vary; I personally try to stay away from psychologizing.

Focus on Performance

To me the key to dealing with crying is to stay focused on the performance issue at hand. You did not cause the employee’s performance to be substandard. Hopefully you have had discussions prior to the time that might bring tears. The employee may still cry when faced with the fact that their performance is causing them problems, but if you have done your homework, then at least you have no reason to shed a tear when having this discussion.

Even in situations where the employee is being let go due to no fault of their own, such as a reduction-in-staff you can still save yourself and others tears by focusing on the performance aspects.

Don’t let tears alter your perspective. Like I said before, if you have done your job and have had performance discussions with an employee there should be no surprises. No surprises should lead to fewer tears shed. Remember tears shed can be a ploy to play on emotions. Facts can provide a check on the emotions.

Crying in YOUR office?

How have you dealt with tears in the workplace? Both an employee’s and yours?

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Mike Haberman

Michael (Mike) D. Haberman, SPHR is a consultant, speaker, writer of HR Observations, and co-founder of Omega HR Solutions, Inc. After over 30 years in HR he got tired of the past and focuses here on the Future of HR. Connect with Mike.

Reader Interactions


  1. Kyle Jones says

    While most tears are genuine regardless of the emotion behind them it is also a tool of manipulation to cry for sympathy. There ate those who will use this as a means of attempting to change the outcome of the termination, discipline, etc.


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