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The Emotional Side of Managing Employees

For as long as I can remember, employees have quickly learned not to cry in the workplace or outwardly show any negative emotions (think Tom Hanks in “A League of Their Own”… There’s No Crying in Baseball!). Since no business owner wants the reduced productivity (and tear-stained paperwork) that accompanies emotional outbursts, this basic concept still makes sense… to some degree.

While the stiff-upper-lip approach to emotion management may have been marginally effective at one time, now that millennials have joined the ranks, you need to recognize that at least some portion of your worker population was raised with an eye toward sensitivity. When they were kids, everyone won a trophy and as adults, they expect company management to treat them with concern, respect, and positivity.

The good news is that the more sensitive management style that millennials demand is really better for baby boomers, too. Here are four ways to channel your inner psychologist, engage all employees, and keep them around longer.

#1. Share the silver lining

Just one employee concern or error can instantly drive attitudes down a dark road and trigger a series of negative events. Your job is to step in quickly to deliver the bright side because, as Bill Gates once said, "It's fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure."

No matter what the concern may be, there is always a silver lining. Even when employees make serious errors, these are good times to illustrate how mistakes lead to positive results. Employees need to know that you recognize that lessons learned can ensure future success.

Don't forget that personal problems also find their way into the workplace and you seldom should become personally involved. You can, however, ease the stress. So, if an employee's loved one becomes seriously ill, you can provide great comfort just by expressing that you will understand if they need time off or other types of assistance.

#2. Offer an open-door policy and mean it

Workers do not always get along with each other and they may not always get along with all customers, either. Like any boss, you undoubtedly call employees into your office to discuss these issues when they escalate to a point where you notice them.

A better approach is to have employees who feel free to come to you to talk about conflicts or other issues long before they explode. This kind of freedom comes from managers who display sensitivity and understanding, regardless of the issue.

In some ways, this requires the techniques used by parents whose children know that they have a safe place to fall no matter how serious their issues are. Whatever happens during a meeting, employees should always walk out feeling better than they did when they walked in.

#3. Correct rather than scold

If you want employees to take advantage of your open door policy, they need to know that they can expect a rational discussion. Sure, they know they may face some form of correction, if appropriate. However, discussions will generate clear ideas of how to resolve issues before they reach fever pitch.

So, how do you accomplish this? Perhaps the most important approach involves engaging in a conversation rather than delivering a lecture. While the employee is talking, practice active listening, formulating a thoughtful response only after you hear everything that the employee has to say.

An employee who made an error may be a symptom of a different problem. After listening to their side of a story, you may recognize that their issues reflect improper training. While their misconceptions may need to be corrected, real solutions might require discussions with the person responsible for training before other workers are guided down the wrong path.

#4. Take a personal interest in your employees

There is a strict boundary between what kinds of personal questions you can ask your employees. Still, you don't need to know highly personal details to provide the type of guidance that leads to emotional satisfaction.

Through observation alone, an engaged manager can learn quite a bit about an employee's general interests, along with personal motivators. Use observations to set employees up for maximum on-the-job gratification without totally changing the jobs you need them to do. For example, employees who prefer working solo can still be happy team members if you show recognition for their individual roles within the teams. Or, detail-oriented line workers will not slow down the assembly line if you praise their high-quality work, while challenging them to look for shortcuts that accomplish the same quality in less time.

Manage by positive example

We may be creatures of habit, but even a baby boomer who has been in the work force for the last 40 years can easily learn to adjust (and thrive) when you make affirmative changes to the management style in your company. Changing from the "no tears" approach to a "we care" approach may require some management training. But, it's not impossible when you provide a positive role model for your entire team.

About the author

Carol Roth is a radio host on WGN, a CNBC TV contributor, a ‘recovering’ investment banker & a bestselling author of The Entrepreneur Equation. You can find her on Twitter @CarolJSRoth or at She also has an action figure made in her likeness.