Responding with empathy

  • Offer your support.

  • Make space for them to cry. Do not try to change their feelings. It could be useful to ask 'what were you thinking while you were crying' after the crying has stopped.

  • Respond with empathy not sympathy as demonstrated in this video:

  • If the staff member discloses that they are struggling with a medical/mental health issue, ask them to connect with an OHA.

  • If appropriate, provide them with resource information and offer to help them navigate the resources provided in this toolkit. 

  • Let them know how you are going to follow-up with them.

  • If the conversation doesn’t go as you hoped (e.g., they don’t want to talk about anything), respect their choices but leave the door open.

  • If a safety concern is involved, set clear expectations with the staff member (see managing performance).

It’s important to keep the following in mind throughout and following your conversation: 

  • You may need to attempt the conversation a few times.

  • Seek support and guidance from Occupational Health and Safety and/or HR/LR (if there is a safety concern).

  • Document the meeting.

  • Take care of yourself, particularly after a difficult conversation. You may choose to debrief with someone (remember to keep information confidential) or get support for yourself though a service such as the Employee and Family Assistance Program

The emotions of a distressed staff member can have a negative impact on leaders. Being aware of the way others can affect our own emotions helps prepare us for the impact, and allows us to handle emotionally charged situations more calmly.


Last updated Tue, Mar 29, 2022