Is Your Workplace Devoid of Emotion?

A headline from Fast Company, “These are the most common roots of workplace drama,” caught my attention. It spurred me to wonder whether a little drama can be welcome.

Hysteria, with shouting and angst, isn’t a good thing, but neither is a complete lack of emotion. There’s a nice man who works at my office who I call (to myself) Mr. Conveyer Belts. He has a bouncy, forever-even-tempered way of bounding through the office—not too fast, not too slow—that reminds me of a well-modulated device being push along a conveyer belt. Like clockwork, he even takes his lunch at the exact same time every day. While I can get irritable, and pound the desk with my fist and swear out loud (to no one in particular usually, except, maybe, a malfunctioning computer), he never loses his cool. Could that be because there’s nothing to lose in that there’s no emotion at all being held in?

As all of us who are prone to bouts of emotion and temper have observed, there are those who are imperturbable in the workplace. The question is whether being compulsively even-tempered, and seemingly devoid of emotion, is better than being filled with emotion and susceptible to unplanned-for expressions of that emotion?

I would argue that the people who buy your company’s products and services, or otherwise work with you, have emotions you need to tap into. If you don’t tap into those emotions, you are less likely to get them to stay with you long term. Tapping into those emotions could mean frightening them enough to get them to see they need your services (such as for a security-related product), exciting them enough to get them to want your product (if you are in the non-essentials market, such as clothing or luxury items), or inspiring a sense of trust (such as for a financial service). If everyone at your company, from the top-level executives to marketing, research and account executives, are not tapped into their own feelings, how can they create a product and services that inspire emotions in others?

You don’t want employees becoming hysterical with each other, but you do want them to have easy access to their emotions. Is there a way to encourage emotional accessibility, and then to teach employees how to channel those emotions into creating better work? 

One idea is to have employees journal, either in writing or through audio or video on their phones, about workplace and personal challenges (the personal challenges they are comfortable sharing). They could do this at any frequency that is realistic, with the minimum requirement that it be done at least monthly. 

Then, employees could be taught how to review the recent experiences in their lives, and see how the emotions those experiences generated could be applied to their work. This could be done in quarterly work group meetings facilitated by a trainer or a subject matter expert such as a workplace psychologist. 

In addition to providing fodder for idea generation, journaling helps make a person more self-aware. You have a chance to look back over a few months of journal entries about your challenges and moments of happiness, and see if you notice patterns. For example, you might notice that your mood plummets, and frustration rises, when working with a particular colleague. It’s an uncomfortable thing to talk about, but a counterproductive work relationship should be addressed. Having that self-awareness would allow the employee to speak directly with the colleague causing the aggravation, or to speak to a manager about working less with that particular person and more with another the employee is more compatible with. 

Along with helping to generate ideas to better appeal to customers and function better interpersonally, emotion is what creates a warm, empathetic environment that is conducive to employee retention. A sterile workplace in which no one is ever too happy or too glum is good in theory, but, in reality, being reflexively even-tempered can be cruel. It’s a detachment from emotion that makes it too easy for an executive to lay off employees who have contributed a great deal so he or she can make financial goals that come with a hefty bonus. It’s also that shortage of emotion that makes it more likely executives will OK the release of products and services they know they would never recommend to their own parents or children. 

Are emotional accessibility and productive use of emotion topics you cover in your training? Do you think emotion has a role to play in the workplace?