Author: Dr Jopie de Beer
There is no shortage of great research on the origin, impact, and management of emotions in the workplace. We know that businesses, as social systems, employ “whole human beings”- and that the emotional, sometimes irrational part cannot be wished/designed/restructured away! All of us will agree that the pandemic has had a massive impact on people and their emotions. If we add to this political and social turmoil, crime and corruption, unemployment and economic hardship, discrimination, false news and misinformation, poor and distrusted leadership, war, toxic social media posts, protests, and destruction of infrastructure - nobody can be surprised that human emotions are red hot, intensely turbulent, often toxic, and highly contagious. The temperature gauge has moved way beyond green or amber. Add to this, if you want to, those reports that refer to “happy” and “unhappy” countries, and that, as life would have it, so many of us live and work in some “unhappy” part of the world. Even for those who are emotionally tone-deaf, there may be a sense of feeling cheated.
This tsunami of challenges and negativity plays out in families, amongst friends, at schools, churches, in societies and in the workplace. Interpersonal “flare-ups”, excessive irritation and anger, oversensitivity, despair, or pessimism are but some of the ways in which we see people responding to the realities of life. Although understandable, these emotions and associated behaviour do pose a challenge to leaders and managers in the workplace. Often because it can be so toxic, irrational, and destructive, to the point where it could pose a risk for the sustainability of a team or even the whole enterprise.
Over the 30 years of our existence, the question of how to calm the emotional temperature in a team, department, or company has always been particularly challenging. Managing “red-hot” emotions in the workplace is enormously complex and challenging but we have found that the following seemingly simple principles have also helped us in this process:
We identified it as a core responsibility to:
- Create a workplace where discipline prevails but also one that is characterised by emotional calmness, honesty, interpersonal respect, and civility. This can, independent of their work responsibilities, provide employees with an opportunity to “calm down” both physiologically and mentally.
- Purposefully craft an awareness, awe, and respect for the incredibly rich texture and value of all forms of diversity in the workplace.
- Allow opportunity for people to “play”. If we take the “ego” out of work yet retain our civility, we can have good fun and at times have a really good laugh at ourselves. This is something South Africans can do so well - allow some of it in the workplace too.
- Always remain a broker of hope. The more catastrophic the environment becomes, the harder we all have to work on crafting and sharing a vision of honest and realistic hope.
I do not think it has ever been more important, given the context we all are living in, that leaders show employees how to let go of their ego and make the workplace one of inclusivity, mutuality, and shared responsibility for wellness and well-being of the business, but most important, also of each other.