Embracing Workplace Emotions
Here at 2Human Strategies, our mission is rooted in the principles of positive psychology. This lens helps us approach our clients in a positive manner as we work with them to foster their growth and development. However, this lens can also lead some of us to get a bit worked up about some of the Human Resource literature that is published on social media. Specifically, I get a bit riled up about what I consider vapid commands for employees, managers, and leaders to avoid emotions in the workplace. Usually, this brand of terrible advice appears in a seductive (read: “clickable”) headline that is written as something like, “TOP TEN THINGS THAT YOU CAN DO AT WORK THAT WILL KILL YOUR CAREER” or “TOP FIVE ACTIONS THAT WILL GET YOU FIRED.” Usually, the articles contain pithy exhortations about the dangers of “emotional hijacking” and the need to control your emotions at work because this keeps you “in the driver’s seat.”
The primary reason I take issue with these “suggestions” is that I believe that they constitute a colossal workplace myth. This type of advice seems to suggest that it is advisable and possible for people to control their emotions at work, at all times. This notion is absurd and unrealistic, and even though we may act as if it is possible and advisable, it isn’t. Here’s why: A full-time employee will spend approximately 35% of all their waking hours (which includes weekends) at work. Let’s say that an average individual begins work at age eighteen and then works 40 hours a week until age 70. That individual will spend approximately 104,000 hours of their life in the workplace. During that time among many other deeply impacting familial and personal life events, this individual will experience births, falling in love, marriages, break-ups, divorce, illness, and death. Even if we exclude the nearly twenty percent of the American workforce that has been diagnosed with a mental illness (Harvard Medical School, 2010), it is simply absurd to expect anyone to be able to “hold it together” and fiercely control their emotions for all 104,000 hours of their life.
The second reason I don’t like this type of post is that they usually suggest that if you lose control at work, you will be “labeled as unstable, unapproachable, and intimidating.” While I am certainly an advocate for boundaries and limits in the workplace (especially when it comes to bullying), I think that this statement offers some significant challenges. Specifically, it ignores the fact that this perspective of individuals who are not in control of their emotions at all times in the workplace has been fostered and reinforced by legal and HR departments, managers, and leaders who seem inconvenienced, baffled, and annoyed by relatively “normal” variations in human emotion and behavior in the workplace. Somehow these individuals have created a type of culture that values and rewards emotionless production machines rather than creative, emotionally intelligent, and soulful humans.
But what if there was another way to manage individuals? What if it is possible to not only accommodate a fuller range of authentic emotional expression and behaviors in the workplace and discourage pejorative labeling and workplace marginalization resulting from emotional expression? What if we learned how to genuinely affirm and foster each individual’s strengths and natural emotional fluctuations in the workplace? When we utilize a positive psychology framework we attempt to focus on an individual’s capacity to emote positively, engage with others, create meaning, achieve and create good relationships (Seligman, 2012, p. 70). In other words, individuals are “creative, whole and complete” and may just need some support to access these aspects of themselves. Although this perspective may seem a bit pollyannaish to some, the reality is that we know that a positive focus on an individual’s strengths works to create more engaged and productive employees. At 2Human Strategies, we believe that individuals can find solutions to their problems and that this process can be facilitated when employees are given the type of support that occurs when an organization adopts positive psychology coaching practices and techniques.
Not sure how to implement positive psychology coaching practices in your workplace? Here at 2 Human Strategies, we offer workshops specifically designed to teach managers and leaders positive coaching strategies that can help you improve your employees' happiness and productivity in the workplace.
Harvard Medical School. (2010). Mental Health Problems in the Workplace. Harvard Mental Health Letter [Newsletter] Retrieved from: http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/mental-health-problems-in-the-workplace
Seligman, M. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York: Free Press.