Jo just started a new job after a long time being unemployed. They arrive at your office unannounced, extremely upset and agitated, almost incoherent with distress.
Start by asking Jo if they are alright, and offer a glass of water or suggest they take a minute before the session officially starts, and to “just take your time”. Your calm and relaxed body language can offset Jo’s agitation. Try sitting still, or slowly moving a chair near your desk for them to sit on.
- If your employee or client is highly upset and anxious, take the time to clear your diary. You need to allow sufficient time to chat.
- If you cannot juggle your next meetings, let them know you are concerned and want to spend the right time on this, that you have only got 30 minutes now, so will make a time to chat again later in the day. Make sure they know you may have to cut it short but will follow up asap as it is important to you – set the follow-up time in your calendar before they leave your office.
It is important to give Jo the opportunity to explain what they are feeling before you determine the next steps. It is easy to jump to conclusions if you do not have all of the facts. This may take time but is worth the effort. You need to let them talk, allowing them to cry if needed. If they do not seem to be able to calm down stay with them, and do not stop the meeting. It is critical that they feel safe and have time to process.
- Listen to your employee, let them talk, and try not to interrupt.
- Do not jump in to offer solutions, fix things, or say, “I know just how you feel” if you don’t actually know.
- Instead, try to wait before answering, nodding, and using your expressions and body language to show you are hearing them. Try to show empathy using phrases like “I understand, I get what you mean”.
Eventually, Jo tells you, that they felt that they were being laughed at in the tea room.
Even though this seems like a minor issue given their reaction, remember that Jo hasn’t worked in a long time and feels very unsure and is not used to the workplace. Jo tells you that they are never going back to that job.
You sit with Jo until they have calmed down, and then check you have understood. It might work to begin to talk more generally – about how the workplace can be a difficult environment for lots of people. You agree that laughing at people can show a lack of respect, but also discuss what respect in the workplace can look like, and how workers might show respect.
- Refer to your notes and paraphrase back to your employee what they have said to ensure that you have fully understood the facts as they have been presented.
- Once your employee has finished speaking, you will have questions. The most important one is: “What outcome are you looking for?” This is important as it helps shape where to go from here.
If Jo is prepared to consider going back to work, ask about the other workers and supervisors, and if any of them might be more supportive or willing to have a conversation.
Jo agrees that maybe there is a supervisor at work who they do feel comfortable with and that the next step might be to ask to meet with them.
Based on what we now know we can offer Jo some options. It might be that you agree to talk to the nominated supervisor together. If you are still concerned, you might suggest a referral to external or internal resources, such as extra sessions or online tools. Outline the options and together assess what might be most appropriate at this time.
- Remember we are not trained mental health experts, this kind of behaviour may be a symptom of something much deeper. We may need to support Jo to seek external help.
- Once you understand what outcome your employee is seeking, make sure you agree on the next steps and put a time frame on these.
Agree to meet again once Jo has followed up on the selected option to work out the next steps.
Ensure that Jo feels supported. Document the conversation for future reference.
- Set day and time of follow-up so expectations are clear.