As a young adult whose professional experiences have been limited, it never occurred to me to think about the extent that my own emotions are present in the workplace and how they do or don’t affect my work. This goes to show just how much our emotions are permitted in these areas — a.k.a. little to none. That is, until I read an article in Time The Science of Emotions called “Go Ahead, Cry at Work.” This eye-opening article established that, in many cases, employees are often expected to leave their emotions at the door in favor of productivity and profit. Emotions, especially those seen as negative such as anger, confusion, fright, jealousy, or sadness, are often seen as a hindrance and are expected to be left at the door. This is, of course, not true in all fields depending on what your role is as well as how your business treats such topics.
Wham! The recognition of this truth hit me like a ton of bricks. What interested me is both how intolerant and how unrealistic this expectation is. While we may not be conscious of these assumptions, they certainly have the capacity to alter our actions and can create a negative environment that decreases morale and diminishes the potential value of our emotions. After all, experiencing a wide range of emotions is a fundamental part of being human. We know they have the capacity to affect us, often whether we’re conscious of it or not, so it stands to reason that it’s no different in a workplace setting. According to Fast Company, “if we’re happy, relaxed, and focused, we’re more willing to be flexible, collaborative, and look forward to new challenges,” but “when we’re feeling depressed, unappreciated, or stressed… the quality of our work and how we interact with others can suffer.” This recognition was part of our rationale to develop the compassion resilience toolkit. You can find more information about compassion resilience here.
Not only that but blocking or censoring our emotions isn’t healthy and can lead to personal and professional setbacks. If we can’t share our feelings with our peers, we can’t process them appropriately, which may lead to symptoms such as fatigue, feelings of inadequacy, loss of concentration, pessimism, and restlessness. Physical symptoms such as changes in appetite, chest pain, headaches, general aches and pain, high blood pressure, and weight gain or loss, among many others, can also occur.
Thankfully, there are a variety of efforts to enhance the well-being of employees. Benefits that promote physical health, such as health education classes, access and discounted rates to fitness facilities, and policies that promote healthy behaviors such as tobacco-free campuses, abound. However, benefits or practices that promote mental health are, as in many parts of our society, largely absent, thereby undervaluing their importance. Recently, the importance of mental wellness is on the rise, and many benefits, such as creating a mental health benefits package, establishing an employee assistance program, appointing a contact for managing mental health communications, or arranging for mental health education and resources onsite, have been established to provide businesses with a more positive and well-rounded benefits package and work environment. For more ideas from The Balance, click here. Or to see the CDC’s workplace health model recommendation, click here.
Rather than suppress emotions, businesses could attempt to acknowledge, accept, and utilize them, a trait which The Wharton School in Pennsylvania calls emotional intelligence, or EQ, “a skill through which employees (and employers) treat emotions as valuable data in navigating a situation.” According to The Wharton School, there are three different, but equally important types of emotions to be aware of, “all three (of which) can be contagious…and have an impact.”
- Discrete – Short-lived emotions. Examples: Anger, disgust, joy, shame, surprise.
- Moods – Longer-lasting feelings that aren’t necessarily tied to a particular cause. Examples: Negative, positive.
- Dispositional – Personality traits that define a person’s overall approach to life. Examples: Cruel, flexible, greedy, optimistic, passionate.
Skilled employers and employees are adept at recognizing and respecting all of these types. According to Good Therapy, this is especially true for roles with large amounts of interpersonal communication and leaders who are responsible for “creating the type of work environment where each person feels…motivated to succeed.” In order to do so, leaders must “view their team members as individuals with unique abilities, backgrounds, and personalities, rather than as a uniform collective. Effective leaders seek to understand and connect emotionally with their staff…” which allows them to “build mutual trust and respect…”. Employees with high levels of emotional intelligence “may be better able to cooperate with others, manage work-related stress, solve conflicts within workplace relationships, and learn from previous interpersonal mistakes.” To read more from Good Therapy, click here.
It’s clear, then, that there is some benefit to making room for emotions in the workplace and letting people be, well, people. According to Fast Company, the following three tips can help employees and employers alike manage and take advantage of their workplace emotions. Click here to read more from Fast Company.
1. Encourage a sense of belonging – Feeling connected to others fulfills a basic need for belonging. Relationships anchor people’s commitment to a business, its brand, and its overall purpose. Try to create areas or incorporate practices that encourage connection. Examples include creating welcoming entrances with visible hosting, providing ample and well-equipped spaces for all workers to work individually or in teams, and designing informal areas for socialization, both in person and virtually.
2. Help people see their worth – It’s natural to want to understand how you impact and contribute to an overall business. When people feel a sense of purpose, it can contribute to building a resilient enterprise based on trust and collaboration. To help cultivate a sense of meaning in the workplace, businesses should create spaces that give people choices and empower them to work alone or together;, include spaces beyond the lobby that reinforce the purpose, history, and culture of the company, and use technology to display real-time information that can help employees feel connected and informed
3. Encourage engagement by promoting mindfulness – When workers are truly engaged, they are fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus. They have full involvement in the task at hand and a true enjoyment of what they’re doing. However, multitasking and cognitive overload often prohibit people from finding this level of focus. Try to help people fully engage in their work by designing areas that allow workers to control their sensory stimulation, offering places that are calming (through materials, textures, colors, lighting, and views) and creating areas where people can connect with others without distractions.
For many businesses, creating a cultural shift to support emotions can be difficult. In the long run, however, providing employees and employers with a space to feel what they’re feeling without fear of being perceived as incapable or weak will increase workplace morale and, consequently, productivity.
Lucy, and the WISE team