Employee Yelling At A Supervisor

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about an employee yelling at a supervisor: 

Question:

I am a supervisor. An employee lashed out and yelled at me in a disrespectful way. She says she is upset because she wants a phone call when I am coming for my zone visit. She is nervous alone in the building, but this is not our practice. How should I deal with this angry person?

Signed,

Concerned


Answer:

Dear Concerned:

The issue of the zone visit and the employee being alone in the building is not clear, nor is exactly what you mean by “lashing out”. But, the general situation seems to be this: You are a supervisor who was spoken to in a rude, very angry, voice-raised, disrespectful way by an employee. Assuming that you did not talk to her in a similar way, you have a situation that is very concerning. For one thing, if she is very angry (as you describe it) it could escalate to a much more volatile situation. If she is merely upset, but not out of control or near it, jt is still a serious problem to have an employee yelling at a supervisor.

At the very least you should direct her to not talk to you that way again or risk serious disciplinary action. Talk to her about better ways to communicate her feelings–and communicate with her openly about why you handle supervisory visits the way you do.

Or, perhaps this is one of many incidents when she has been angry and yelled and you should talk to your managers or others about it and consider dismissing her. If there is a work issue that can be repaired through ongoing communications, maybe you can do that. But, her actions were not appropriate and should not happen again. If she was yelling at a supervisor she will yell at someone else if she is upset.

The issue about being alone in the building is also a concern. You did not say your gender. Maybe she is nervous about being alone with you specifically or being alone with a man in the building, so she wants you to have someone else with you.  Talk to her about this, rather than reacting to her anger.

I think you should consider having someone with you on future visits, until you know that this recent situation has been resolved. If you’re not under an obligation to warn her of a visit ahead of time,  maybe there is no reason to do it. If it would be a courteous thing to do and would help resolve the problem, you may want to do so. I think calling ahead would be courteous most of the time, but there are many times when  a supervisor should make unannounced visits. The fact that she got so angry when you arrived unannounced may be related to what she was doing or not doing at the time.

That is why I think you should talk to your manager about it…this is about more than a minor conflict with an easy fix. The bottom line is that her outburst should not be glossed over and forgotten. Even though several days have elapsed, you can talk or write to her and say that, while you want to resolve conflicts, you also want to establish the foundation that neither you nor she will yell, lash out angrily or use words or phrases that block good communication. You may need to be very direct.

Tell her that it was a huge concern when she reacted in that way and if it happens again serious action will be taken about it–and that it would happen anytime there is a situations of an employee yelling at a supervisor. Then, you can move on to how to resolve the larger issues. It may be that there is no resolution and the employee will always resent your supervisory efforts. If so, that tells you that you will need to discuss her status with your manager and/or HR.

Best wishes to you with this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe