The past few weeks have been an economic and emotional roller coaster. The impact has been felt in workplaces everywhere. Watercooler conversations reflect the concerns and anxieties of most Americans — about job and financial security. Stress, bad moods and negative emotions are permeating the workplace, along with uncertainty about coping with it.
As an organizational development consultant and coach, I work with a wide variety of businesses, managers and frontline workers, helping individuals and organizations identify methods to more effectively deal with performance challenges. Emotions affect performance, and in these tough times fear, pain and apprehension are permeating from C-level suites on down.
Now more than ever, there is a need for organizations to proactively address workplace stress and emotions. The American Psychological Association claims that nearly two-thirds of people cite the economy as a source of significant stress. Another recent survey reports that 48 percent of all workers identify that stress makes it hard for them to perform well on the job. Workers losing sleep over financial or job worries come to work exhausted and with raw nerves, which puts them at risk for potentially dysfunctional behavior.
Most companies’ current “emotional fields” are loaded with anger, anxiety and stress. Like catching a cold virus, we are susceptible to “catching” others’ emotions. We naturally absorb the emotional states of those around us. As smiles and positive feelings are contagious, unfortunately so are the negative emotions.
When people are overloaded and hurting, they lose confidence and aren’t as effective dealing with the day-to-day frustrations and normal tasks. You may have noticed co-workers are on edge, distracted and have less patience these days (snapping at what a few months back might have been deemed minor frustrations). A domino effect can follow.
Extraordinary times like these call for extraordinary action. While most companies will focus and organize themselves around meeting targets and cutting back resources, far too few will do the critical work of paying attention to the emotional states of their employees.
Many companies in economic downturns self-implode not so much due to the market but more often because of their inability to deal effectively with the resulting internal challenges, stress, conflict, etc. Strong, wise and compassionate leadership will be critical to survival.
Workplace health and morale will depend on how companies cope with trying times, bad news and the resulting emotions. Workers will need sensitivity, understanding, empathy, support and transparent communication about what’s “really going on.” Management will need to rely on skillful delivery of clear direction while creating opportunities for employees to safely vent frustrations and fears.
Unfortunately, in much of corporate America, there is a strong bias against talking about feelings in the workplace. I couldn’t disagree more. We don’t check part of ourselves at the door entering work. Allowing people to express their feelings can be healthy for workplaces to work out core challenges, conflicts and issues. We often connect to each other, strengthen relationships and understand each other better through expression of feelings. With all the stress out there, a little understanding and empathy goes a long way.
I keep hearing politicians talk about putting emotions aside — as if that is really possible! We are emotional beings. Emotions aren’t simply good or bad, right or wrong — they just are. To suggest that we ignore them is simply bad advice.
Feelings are important for sound decision making; the problem is, many people either ignore them or are not conscious of them. Feelings have served humankind since the caveman days as a survival warning or radar system. For example, fear can alert you to an impending threat (like the robot in the 1960s classic “Lost in Space” did when he signaled, “Danger, Will Robinson,” for Will to take immediate action to protect himself).
Emotions inform us as to the importance and meaning of situations and interactions. Once you allow your feelings to inform you, the challenge is what you do next. It’s behavior that causes a problem for most people in workplaces. People who keep emotions bottled up or unexpressed are at risk for expressing them in dysfunctional ways.
By the way, if managing your behavior appropriately is a problem, you will need to get help learning new ways of coping or risk being out of a job. I can help- call me: 360 682 5807.