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Emotions and the workplace are two words that don’t belong together – an oxymoron. Often, people confuse emotions with being emotional which conjures up an image of irrational thinking and behaviour. However, emotions are valuable markers for managers because they are clues as to how employees perform their tasks and manage customers.

Emotions and managing them in the workplace is a fairly recent leadership topic. Reams of leadership literature previously excluded it, but over time leaders are embracing the concept that emotions are important in a work environment. Some leaders prefer to leave emotions at home, but this viewpoint can be very short-sighted. Again, these people are leaning towards the uncomfortable side of negative emotions because they are unfamiliar with managing emotions. Embracing and developing their own emotional intelligence will be beneficial to these people.

Leaders can use control and shift their employees’ emotions toward the desired direction if they are in tune with their own emotions. We know that emotional contagion can be extremely powerful in a team environment where everybody is infected with the group’s emotions. This obviously has a direct result on outcomes, performance and service excellence. The group may not even be aware of the group’s accumulated emotions but it won’t take long for an outsider or leader to pick up the vibe and energy. For managers to deal with individual people’s emotions is uncomplicated, but a group’s emotions can run like a bush fire – fast and fierce! If the emotions are positive that’s great, however they still need monitoring as hyped-up positive emotions can lead to unrealistic optimism and increased courage for risk taking. In contrast, negative emotions result in lacklustre motivation, drive, commitment, and performance.

Also, emotional labour is a common challenge that can lead to disengagement, burnout and job dissatisfaction. Emotional labour is the management of our emotions in the service of our job. It is a requirement of a job that employees display required emotions toward customers or others. More specifically, emotional labour comes into play during communication between worker and customers and between worker and worker. An example of this would be a TV show host or a receptionist who always has to put on happy smiley face, regardless of what or how they are feeling. If there are long periods of unhappiness, then employees become psychologically and physically disengaged. A leader can look out for these signs, anticipate them in advance, and support his/her employees before the customers notice it.

Leaders need to take action before matters escalate to a potential disaster. We urge you to become skilled in perceiving the emotional climate of your company and embracing emotions in the workplace as a valuable leadership skill.