For some folks, going to work can serve as a welcome break from life’s stressors, be it marital strife, family drama, or just the weight of the world (and these days, it seems, has it ever really been weightier?) However, if your employees are unable to check these emotions at the door, it can cause problems ranging from the creation of a hostile work environment right down to productivity and capital losses.
While it would be nice to operate within an “emotion-free” business environment, the scenario is completely unrealistic. People are not inanimate objects and thus react to their surroundings and the people that roam within them. Further, without some emotion, you’d likely have a pretty darn boring office environment, with no one expressing passion or excitement for projects.
As such, it is best to establish an environment where you, your managers, and your HR reps (where applicable) are trained to appropriately manage emotions within the workplace. In addition, these same point people can even help guide employees on how to better manage the stressors most likely to flare in the workplace environment, bringing you closer to the goal of having a more even-keeled workplace.
While it is sometimes admirable to put on a brave face, it is also both dishonest and unrealistic. Opening up to your workers about your own vulnerabilities can help to establish common ground, as well as help breed loyalty and even improve team dynamics. Now, when we advise you to show vulnerabilities, we aren’t suggesting that you divulge all the secrets of your personal life, more so that you also share a time that you struggled professionally or even goofed up (and how you fixed it or would have done it differently in hindsight).
Head off a meltdown:
Typically, employee’s emotional outbursts don’t just come out of nowhere. Rather, there are a series of warning signs that signal that something is brewing. Teach your managers to recognize the signs of a pending melt down. This can look different for everyone, but can include short tempers, avoidance of certain subjects, detachment, or simply just shortness in conversations — and address them before they become something more. Encourage managers to check in with employees on a regular basis, but particularly when they feel that trouble is brewing so that they can take steps to address the issue and head off a melt-down.
Look out for gender differences:
While we hate to stereotype when it comes to workplace emotions, there are differences in how men and women express frustration in the workplace. Study after study shows that women are much more likely than their male counterparts to cry, due in large part to the fact that they are biologically better equipped to cry in response to big emotions (you can thank those oversized tear ducts and higher levels of the hormone that produces tears!) By comparison, men are more likely to raise their voices, become aggressive, or (in the worst possible case) turn violent, again, due in part to hormone differences (in this case, testosterone surges that can promote aggression). While managers cannot change the biological responses, they can pick up on these differences and be sure to engage with the employee when they pick up on these tell-tale signs.
Let them vent:
As we touched on above, dialing into those warning signs and offering up solutions before an emotional explosion can be a great tactic. However, when it comes to emotions in the workplace, the power of venting should not be under-sold! Giving employees the time to really air their grievances, especially if the manger holds off on steering the conversation or dishing out advice, can help workers to sort through their emotions and potentially even identify solutions on their own.
Do not discount or discredit:
Think back to the last time you were upset: Did someone telling you the issue “wasn’t a big deal” or would “work itself out” ever actually make you feel better? The answer here, of course, is a resounding no. You see, when folks negate another person’s feelings, or perhaps worse, discredit or invalidate them, they not only fail to resolve the issue, but can actually steer the person even further from a solution. Further, creating an environment where managers don’t take the concerns of their staff seriously can foster mistrust and lack of engagement.
Remember your role:
In our first point, we noted that managers shouldn’t pretend that they are devoid of emotion and should instead ‘fess up to having feelings. However, being a manager also means that you must also model how to manage those emotions. As such, managers should be advised to head off an emotional explosion by announcing to their teams that they’re taking a brief breather to gather their thoughts — and then really take a physical break for 30 minutes or so to air out. After all, when managers neglect their own emotions, they inadvertently send the message to their employees that they should be doing the same, which we all know can prove to be a disaster just waiting to happen.