Angry With an Employee? Wait 24 Hours.

You will respond better if you wait.

Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash

Have you ever had a manager who micromanaged? Did you ever feel like the things your boss would make a big deal out of were just…strange? Did you ever feel personally attacked by your superior when you made a minor mistake?

I was once this boss. 

I’ve lived two lives as a manager. My first life was unintentional—like many folks in the service industry, becoming a manager isn’t always a goal: it’s more like an inevitability. As we see our colleagues move on to other jobs, our bosses flee their positions for either better opportunities or to escape the banality of middle management, we ascend into these jobs filled with more responsibility and meager wage increases. And yet, many of us are ill-equipped to actually fulfill these jobs well. Almost no one is trained to be a manager. You just assume new responsibilities and figure it out as you go. 

When I first became a manager, I thought my job would be to keep things running. Order products, make a schedule, be an ear to employees when they needed it. Instead, I morphed into a person that cared about every little detail. I’d walk into work looking for what was wrong. I’d ask questions about sales before even saying hello. And I’d be upset and try to correct people when they made mistakes—no matter how tiny they were. 

Naturally, this made me unpopular. I’d catch employees continuing to make the same mistakes or suddenly shift around when I’d walk into work, undoubtedly because they were doing something I wouldn’t approve of. So my response was to be hypervigilant. I’d come into work on my days off, or try to catch people off-guard. Instead of just overseeing day-to-day operations, I was concerned with every little detail, every moment of my workspace. And it made me miserable. 

It probably made those around me miserable as well. Eventually, I decided I no longer wanted to manage anymore. I wrote off managing as a fool’s folly—something that you could only do if you could give yourself over completely to your job. 

Folks, this isn’t true. 

My second life as a manager came at an intersection of choice and need. I had been working weekends at my local coffee shop, and decided to leave my 9-5 job to pursue a slightly less hectic lifestyle. The shop I worked at was operating without a manager, and the de facto lead barista was leaving to pursue another job. I asked the owner if he was interested in having me manage the store, and he said yes. 

This time, I knew I had to do things differently. I read dozens of articles and books about management, and began shifting my perspective on what it meant to lead.

Instead of worrying about every little detail, I began to realize my job wasn’t focus on minute moments, but actually something way bigger: it was to create an environment where folks felt good at work. 

One of the first things I did to make this happen was to wait when I got angry. If I saw a barista do something that I didn’t agree with, I’d bite my tongue. If they served drinks in a way I didn’t like, I’d let it pass. Why? Three reasons. 

  1. If I reacted in the moment, I’d likely react with anger and negativity, which I wanted to avoid at all cost. When we feel things in the moment, we’re likely not only to express our dissatisfaction with the action, but the emotions that this dissatisfaction carries. 

Let’s say a barista, whom you’ve trained to make drinks one way, makes them another way—what emotion does that immediately stir? Confusion? Annoyance? Does that barista really need to feel that from you to self-correct, or can you take a moment and tell them in a space and a manner that is safe? By allowing time to pass, you allow your emotions about an action to step aside, and you can truly focus on the corrective steps you need to take with that employee.

Remember what the goal is when you want to correct an employee: you want to make them better at their jobs. That’s it. You shouldn’t want them to feel your annoyance or anger and you shouldn’t want to embarrass them in front of other employees or customers. Corrective action should solely be about that: correcting behavior. 

I’m not saying you can’t be annoyed—if someone continues to do something you’ve asked them to correct, you can express that feeling, but by giving 24 hours of space, you’ll likely find a healthier way to express that emotion. Being snippy in the moment might feel like the thing you want to do, but waiting a day means you can collect your thoughts and say something like, “Hey, I feel like I’ve told you a few times that this is incorrect, and it’s frustrating to have to continue repeating myself. Is there a way we could create a system that reminds you of the correct way to do this?” 

This allows the employee both to respond and fully understand where you’re coming from. Again, the focus should be on finding a solution—not to express the emotions surrounding your dissatisfaction. 

  1. If I didn’t care in 24 hours, then it didn’t really matter. Not truly. 

Back to the barista serving drinks example. Sure, it might piss me off in the moment, but if I take a minute to reflect, I’d likely see that this workflow actually works better for them, or I’d see that, as long as they’re getting drinks out quickly, then it doesn’t matter how they set themselves up. Just because I think I’m right about something doesn’t mean they are wrong.

By allowing myself space to react—and to potentially forget and move on—I let go of some of the “micromanaging” tendencies I gravitated to, and could truly focus on things that actually mattered. And if I was still thinking about the behavior the next day, then I could address it at that time. 

How often do things that felt like a big deal one day feel insignificant the next? This is also true in workplace situations, and if it isn’t a big deal in 24 hours, then you should let it go. You have more important things to do.

It’s also important to remember how your employees will take this type of feedback. While you might not even remember why you chastise an employee the next day, I guarantee you they remember, and they’ll carry the weight of your snap response for a long time. I can’t tell you how long a harsh word or a speedy and cold reprimanding have stuck with me. Is that fair to your employees? Is it worth hurting their feelings to get your annoyed feelings out in the open? 

  1. Waiting 24 hours gave me time to analyze why they messed up—and figure out if it was my fault. Had I modeled good behavior in the past? Did I explicitly tell them how to do something, and they chose to do it differently or incorrectly? Or was it my fault because I didn’t give them the tools to succeed? 

These are pretty hard questions to answer in the moment, but by giving myself 24 hours to think about an action, I could address an employee correctly, and figure out if the right way to move forward was with pointing out that the action was incorrect, or take a moment to teach someone a better way to do something.

You can’t fault people for making mistakes if you don’t give them the tools to succeed—and you truly need to take a moment to figure out if an employee’s actions come from a momentary lapse, a lack of care, or lack of knowledge. 

Once I waited 24 hours to give feedback, my time rapidly opened up. I noticed that I was able to give more of my attention and care with less of my time, and when I gave feedback to employees, it landed much more strongly than it did before. My employees knew that, if I was giving them feedback, then it meant it was something I really cared about. It also showed that I trusted them to self-correct their own mistakes, or if they did something differently than how I did it, it’s because I trusted them to make smart decisions that worked better for them. 

And honestly? Waiting 24 hours made me a happier person in general. I wasn’t always angry all the time, and I could go home from work knowing that the issues of today could be addressed later. For your own piece of mind—and for the wellbeing of your staff—please consider giving yourself space before you decide to correct an employee.