According to a study many employees do not want their co-workers to express any type of strong emotion — positive or negative.
Employees expect others to hide negative emotions in order to maintain what they call “professionalism.” They also expect co-workers to hide positive ones by not showing too much pleasure with promotions or raises because someone else might have missed out.
Emotions have been getting a bad rap in the workplace. If you’re a true professional, the thinking goes, you never show emotions at work. In fact, the really true professional has no emotions at work. He’s a little like Spock from Star Trek who said that “Emotions are alien to me. I’m a scientist.”
Consequently, in many workplaces showing strong emotions, good or bad, can be career suicide. If you allow your frustration at a bad decision or your elation at a victory to shine through, you will be seen as volatile, untrustworthy and, of course, unprofessional.
There’s only one problem: Human beings don’t work that way.
We have emotions. We have them in our private lives, and it’s not like we can leave them in the car in the parking lot at work. Whether we want them to or not, they’re coming to work with us.
The best workplaces know this, and leave room for both positive and negative emotions. As a result, people are happier at work, are more creative, function better in teams and are more productive and motivated.
On the other hand, companies that ignore and/or stifle emotions are setting themselves up for massive doses of conflict, frustration, disengagement and unhappiness at work.
Read on to see why no company can afford to ignore emotions in the workplace.
1: We make no decisions without emotions
The evidence has been piling up throughout history, and now neuroscientists have proved it’s true: The brain’s wiring emphatically relies on emotion over intellect in decision-making.
“We found everyone showed emotional biases, more or less; no one was totally free of them,” De Martino says. Even among the four participants who were aware they were inconsistent in decision-making, “they said, ‘I know, I just couldn’t help myself,’ ” he says.(source)
Many, many people think that decisions (especially business decisions) should be made rationally. You know, we coolly list the pros and cons, the risks and opportunities and then choose the best possible course.
Well I’ve got news for ya: That’s not how we make decisions. In reality, our emotions play a huge role in each and every decision we make, and if our decision making process does not acknowledge this, the process is sure to suffer. And so will the qualities of the decisions we make.
2: Emotions guide workplace relationships
No team, department, workgroup or company can function without good working relationships between people. What’s more, good workplace relations are one of the largest causes of happiness at work.
And once again, we form workplace relations with our emotions. The reason you work well with George and Tina isn’t that you’ve rationally decided to create a good relationship with them, because “that would be good for the project.” No, you work well with George and Tina because you like them and they like you.
And when you have those kinds of relationships in a team, the team functions much, much better. Contrast that with the team where everyone can kinda see that the other guys are good at what they do, but nobody cares about each other.
3: Emotions are at the core of employee engagement and motivation
Workplaces today want employees to be more than just wage slaves who only come in for the salary. Companies want people to be motivated and engaged at work and exert a lot of effort in team building, bonus schemes, motivational speakers etc. to further this.
And guess what: Engagement and motivation are emotions. It’s not like employees rationally tally up all the pros and cons of being motivated and then decide to be it or not to be it. Whether or not we care about our workplace is a non-rational, emotional process. The caring itself is an emotion.
4: Emotions are crucial to creativity and innovation
Businesses are also crying out for more creativity and innovation from their people and unsurprisingly, since I mention it here, this also relies in people’s emotional state.
Teresa M. Amabile has studied how employees’ emotional state affect creativity and has found that:
One, people have incredibly rich, intense, daily inner work lives; emotions, motivations, and perceptions about their work environment permeate their daily experience at work. Second, these feelings powerfully affect people’s day-to-day performance.
If people are in a good mood on a given day, they’re more likely to have creative ideas that day, as well as the next day, even if we take into account their mood that next day.
There seems to be a cognitive process that gets set up when people are feeling good that leads to more flexible, fluent, and original thinking, and there’s actually a carryover, an incubation effect, to the next day.
So if we want people to be creative, we need them to feel good at work. More emotions!
5: Emotions are integral to learning at work
Learning on the job is also hugely important today. Few people get to work a job that never changes, and many employees are regularly learning new procedures, IT systems, regulations, etc. Again, many companies view learning as a purely rational process. As in “There’s a chunk of knowledge in the teacher’s head – we shall now transfer that knowledge into your head.”
But all theories of learning show, that emotions play a huge role in learning. When we are scared, upset or stressed, we are terrible learners. We’re less able to concentrate, less able to recall past learnings and less able to make mental connections in the things we learn. When we’re relaxed and having fun, learning happens much faster.
6: It’s not like we can leave our emotions at home
Emotions are a huge part of us human beings. What we love and hate and enjoy and fear is a large part of who we are. Placing us in a situation where we have emotions but can’t show them is stressful and unpleasant.
7: When we stifle bad emotions we strengthen them
If an employee is angry, disappointed or frustrated over something at work and is not allowed to display that emotion, there’s a good chance the emotion will grow stronger because that person can’t get it out in the open and deal with it.
A study shows that these negative emotions should not be ignored:
“If employees have emotional reactions and their employers don’t pay attention to those reactions, they can withdraw. They are more likely to take sick days, and if their frustration continues to grow they will actually leave their jobs.” (Source)
8: When we stifle good emotions we weaken them
And when we stifle positive emotions the opposite happens: We weaken them.
Let’s say you make that huge sale you’ve been working on for weeks. This is your best work for the company yet. A true triumph. It feels really good.
If you’re not allowed to show your elation, that positive feeling will soon dissipate. That is why the best workplaces are very good at celebrating victories, big or small. Celebrating keeps the good feeling alive for a longer period of time, and motivates people to go out and create more victories.
9: Emotions are a sign that people care about the workplace
The only emotionless workplace is the one where no one gives a damn! If people feel happy when they’re successful and sad when they’re not, it’s a sign that they care about their work. This is a good thing.
The upshot: How the best workplaces handle emotions
So, should all business devolve into endless meetings where we can talk about our feelings? Should all meeting rooms be equipped with Kleenex in case someone starts crying? Should we express our tiniest, most fleeting emotions and go into full-on tantrums whenever we feel like it?
But workplaces should:
- Make room for the emotions that employees have. They’re there, might as well deal with it.
- Learn how emotions influence business success factors like learning, creativity and teamwork.
- Learn how to deal constructively – and even appreciatively – with displays of emotion – negative and positive.
Southwest Airlines get this – they’re fine with people showing what they feel, good or bad. One manager leaving the company after 22 years wrote this after his farewell party at the company:
Damn, that was brutal…brutal in the sense that it makes leaving all of this even harder…I think it’s a conspiracy, a torturous way to keep you from leaving. They have all this food for you, balloons everywhere, and gifts galore…even a new sports coat to wear in lieu of the polo and shorts I wear today. And the People…my friends…the smiles, tears, comments, and stories…man this is killing me. Anyone that ever questioned the Southwest Culture and Spirit never understood it to begin with…Why am I leaving? Confusing huh?
Smiles and tears. That’s what I would want, leaving a company after 22 years. Not just a gold watch and a carefully prepared, professional(!) send-off. Smiles and tears :o)
Kent Blumberg tells a great story about Listening meetings in a company – where the CEO meets with various teams and simply sits down to listen to whatever is said.
And that’s how the best companies handle emotions. They ask questions like:
- “So, how do you feel about this meeting/decision/project/whatever?”
- “How are you doing?”
- “I can tell you’re not happy with this meeting. What’s your take?”
And then they shut up and listen!
What about you? Do you show how you feel at work? The good or the bad? How does your company receive displays of emotions? Write a comment, I’d really like to know.