6 Tips for Managing Overly-Emotional Crew & Employees
May 16, 2023 · 10 mins read ·Maritime Industry
Most of us would agree that we can behave professionally and manage our emotions when we’re at work - whether that workplace is a maritime recruitment agency, shipping office, port, or a vessel.
But if you’re a manager - or a higher ranking crew member - you might have had some memorably over-emotional employees or crew during your career.
And the tricky thing is, as someone who is in charge of other people, you will need to handle different emotional outbursts in different ways. For example, some people are quick to lose their temper at even trivial things while others are more likely to burst into tears.
It might be tempting to ignore these outbursts however, they need to be managed so that they don’t take their toll on the workplace and other employees or crew.
It can be alarming, awkward, embarrassing, stressful and even scary when someone you work alongside is freaking out, however they express it.
And let’s not forget the safety factor on ships - if someone is constantly blowing up or melting down they are not performing their tasks to the best of their ability and they could be so overly emotional (whether raging or upset) that they’re failing to spot warning signs or dangerous situations.
So as a team leader, office manager or senior crew member, how do you handle an emotional employee, officer or rating? How can you still give information or orders to a person effectively when they are either crying or yelling?
Effective leaders - both ashore and at sea - need to be able to manage all of their subordinates regardless of their temperament. And they also need to be able to diffuse emotional people and situations as soon as they arise.
And of course, once the situation has been de-escalated, you can then have a conversation about their behavior later, if necessary.
And so, here are 6 ways you can manage crew and personnel who have a habit of letting their emotions run away with them.
6 Tips for managing overly-emotional crew and employees
1. Create an action plan in advance
If it has become apparent that you have someone who is very emotional in your office or onboard your vessel it will be helpful to have a plan in the event they can’t control themselves. Understand what this person’s triggers are (tiredness, criticism, feedback etc) and how they react. For example, do they flare up or get upset and cry?
Practice improving the way you give constructive criticism to employees and crew as this will help you approach that person in such a way that will hopefully diffuse the situation more quickly.
2. Try and de-escalate the problem
Whatever has caused the problem and whether the reaction is to cry or yell, you ideally need to diffuse the situation. If you’re in the middle of the office, on the bridge or in the mess, ask the individual if they would like to go somewhere private where you can either talk it through or have them sit for a moment while they calm down.
If they are open to a conversation, keep calm and use neutral wording like “Can you explain to me what the issue is - I would like to understand.” Let them talk and don’t raise your voice in response - the idea is to get them to mirror your calm manner.
3. Ease into feedback or criticism
Whether an employee or crew member is emotional or they’re better at taking feedback on the chin, begin the conversation with something positive. Don’t jump in and start talking about the issue as this will set a negative tone for the rest of the talk.
If they are an overly-emotional person, this might not stop them from getting upset as you address the real issue, but you’ll have a better chance at getting your point across if you lead by giving them some praise and telling them what they do well first.
4. Listen to your employee or seafarer
However your emotional employee or crew member expresses upset, make sure you acknowledge their grievance or issue. You may find that they’re venting because they’re stressed out at work, missing home or tired from late watches.
Only by listening to them can you take steps to help reduce or eliminate the problem. Of course, you’re not going to be able to arrange an emergency crew change for a seafarer who is a little homesick, but you may be able to address other issues.
5. Acknowledge it if you need external help
Whether your crew member or employee is the type to have frequent meltdowns or it seems like a one off, it might not only be because they’re overly sensitive or angry as a person. There might be something that is non-work related that has led to the emotional outburst.
And as a manager or superior rank, this might not be an issue that you can deal with. Of course you can do your best to alleviate the worry or concern but if someone has personal or health issues - such as problems with a relationship, substance abuse or financial worries, these are out of your remit.
Of course, you can express empathy but for the sake of the employee or seafarer, you need to realize that your job is to manage that person in the workplace - i.e. professionally.
You are not a doctor, counselor or social worker. Encourage them to seek help in the right channels outside of work or as soon as they take their next period of shore leave.
6. Don’t take their reaction to heart
As the person who is in a higher position and who needs to deal with an emotional seafarer or employee, remember that they are reacting the way they normally react when they are stressed, tired or under pressure. It’s not about you. It’s about them.
Taking another person’s reactions personally can have the undesirable knock-on effect of you becoming defensive and this will not help to diffuse the situation. Remain calm and professional and remind yourself that they probably can’t help their reaction.
That’s not to say that if frequent emotional outpourings are having an impact on others in the office or vessel or on their own work, that they shouldn’t be dealt with.
Managing emotional employees: conclusion
A person who is prone to tears in the workplace is most likely to be embarrassed. They don’t want to be seen as weak and they probably realize that it’s awkward for their fellow crew or coworkers.
If it happens once in a blue moon, you are probably safe to have a word with them and check in to make sure they’re okay and that there are no underlying concerns. However if they seem to be crying most weeks it’s probably time to have a serious talk with them about their suitability for the role.
But what if your seafarer or employee is more given to losing their temper? Even infrequent tantrums are a red flag that this person might not be working out at your company and it might be time to issue some warnings and eventually part ways.
Of course, if they are crew and they’re acting in an unpleasant, nasty or even violent manner you will want to terminate their contract and have them leave the vessel as soon as practical.
Your shipping company or manning agency’s managers and your senior crew should be trained to spot the warning signs that someone is exhibiting worrying behavior and all employees or crew should be allowed to feel comfortable in reporting anything that rings alarm bells.
In addition, there should be a formal procedure for reporting concerning behavior, just as there should be a formal procedure for dealing with the individual involved.
Managing crew or employees who struggle to keep their emotions in check isn’t fun. But you need to have a plan in place and know how best to deal with certain people on your staff or in your crew if you want your office or vessel to run smoothly, safely, productively and positively.
Eve is Martide's content writer and publishes regular posts on everything from our maritime recruitment and crew planning software to life at sea.