24 | Apr | 2018

Emotions in the Workplace: Competitive Advantage or Unnecessary Pain?

Author: Dr. Edwin Trevor-Roberts

Why are emotions such a hot topic in the workplace right now? This question was the start of an enthralling conversation with Professor Peter Jordan from Griffith University and Sally Kirkright, CEO of Access EAP at our recent In Conversation series event.

The answer to the question is a combination of many factors stemming from the constant and increasing rate of change in the workplace. In every industry there are big things happening and these changes are putting people under pressure to perform.

Moreover, people's expectations are changing within the workplace, with (typically) younger workers wanting a more positive working environment. They simply won't put up with bad behaviour or negativity for too long.

Emotions are a Signal

Emotions - both positive and negative - are signals about your organisation's culture.  As Professor Jordan said "Negative emotions aren't bad, they merely point to where issues may be brewing". He gave the example that if someone expresses fear, this may point to a sense of uncertainty about something. If someone expresses anger, this usually indicates that a sense of justice has been breached for them. Paying attention to these signals is critical to influencing the culture.

Don't sneeze. Emotional Contagion.

The panel reminded us that emotions are contagious. Both positive and negative emotions are replicated quickly through a group. This is especially true during organisational change such as a restructure or downsizing, where negative emotions spread quickly. 

It is important to create a safe workplace where people can express their emotions. "Leaders play a central role in creating a safe place through conversations where the issue at hand can be separated from the emotion" explained Sally Kirkright from Access EAP. Sally went on to highlight that people want authentic leaders - those that express emotions appropriately. "We bring our whole self to work" she reminded us.

Teams need more than Happiness

High-performing teams need a balance of emotions. If members of a team are constantly enthusiastic and super-motivated this can lead to group think. In our Team Optimisation programs we focus on four sets of behaviours that underpin effective teams. In one of these - Perform - we discuss how high performing teams "suffer failures acutely together". In other words, high-performing teams really feel when something goes wrong. They acknowledge the negative emotion, reflect and learn from what happened, then move on.

Productive Workers are Happy Workers

Typically, we think that happy workers are productive workers but research shows this is the other way around. We don't need to be bouncy and bubbly all day to have a great day at work. People derive a deep sense of satisfaction from getting their work done well.

Feel free to join in the conversation – do you have examples or experience of how best to manage emotions in the workplace?

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Tags: Employee Engagement, Future of Work, Organisational Change Agility, Leadership

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