How to deal with a crying coworker or employee

How do you let a coworker who is crying at work know they aren’t being ignored without encroaching on their personal space? Here are a few tips to consider, depending on the situation.

While everyone from Sheryl Sandberg to Steve Jobs has cried at work, it’s an entirely different situation when you see someone you work with shed tears.

So how do you let them know they aren’t being ignored without encroaching on their personal space? Here are a few tips to consider, depending on the situation.

When you hear someone crying at their desk

This could be helpful when this happens close to your own desk. L.V. Anderson, former Slate associate editor (now at Digg), features insight from Lily Newman, a former technology reporter for the publication (currently at WIRED), on the site.

Newman talks about her experience crying on the job. Her suggestion is featured later in the piece:

“People with tears streaming down their faces might not want to get into conversations—but they might feel even worse knowing that everyone can see them crying but is choosing to ignore them. Newman suggests using a chat program to check in with a silently crying colleague in a low-pressure way. It’s easier to type than to talk when you’re crying, and pinging colleagues online will open the door for them to assure you everything’s fine, tell you that they don’t want to talk about it, or spill their guts. (If you’re not close enough with your colleagues that you chat with them regularly, then you’re probably not close enough to inquire into the reasons for their tears.)”

When an employee cries in front of the entire team

Jennifer DeRome (formerly Jennifer Winter), a content strategist, writer, and relationship manager, writes in The Muse about dealing with crying employees as a manager and suggests that you “change the scenery” when this happens:

“Having an employee cry in front of the whole team isn’t good for the group, and obviously, isn’t good for the employee. So, at the first sign of trouble, it’s a great idea to guide that person to a more private area. A spare office or conference room works great, but avoid the bathroom at all costs if you plan on having any sort of discussion with your employee. It’s fine if she needs to compose herself, but save the talking for a more professional atmosphere that doesn’t involve an echo and running water.”

When an employee cries over something job-related

It happens.

Anne Kreamer, author of It’s Always Personal: Emotion in the New Workplace, tells the Harvard Business Review about how managers can zero in on the work issues when an employee cries:

“The most helpful thing you can do is listen and try to help them solve their work-related concerns…In the most extreme case, it could be necessary to suggest a leave of absence and bring in temporary help.”

Jane Burnett|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at jburnett@theladders.com.