The Emotional Culture of Your Organization

Image: The Emotional Culture of Your Organization

Why It’s Important to Care About Emotions

Emotions are a big part of the decision-making process. While we all may like to believe that we always act rationally, that we only consider the facts, and that we don’t let our emotions “get in the way”, the reality is that how we feel affects a lot of what we do.

Events in and outside of the workplace can have an impact on an organization’s performance. If team members are sad, angry, or frustrated, they won’t work well together and productivity will decline. Conversely, when people are happy and feel valued and accepted, they are more productive and they like doing their work more. That’s why it’s important for an organization to have a positive emotional culture.

The “emotional culture” of an organization are the feelings, attitudes, and moods of those who work there, as well as the overall “feel” of the organization as a whole.

Last week I met with a client over lunch and we were catching up on our personal lives. We both shared some difficult situations that we have been facing the last few months.  We could empathize with each other’s circumstances and relate.  My client reflected back on how the situation they have been dealing with in their personal life impacted their ability to communicate, collaborate and feel engaged at work.  No matter who we are, our emotional lives impact our ability to perform. We are only human and we can’t always separate feelings from function.

An organization’s emotional culture doesn’t just impact the people who wok there. It also affects how prospective talent views it. Many employees, especially Millennials, want to work for an organization where they feel valued. If they don’t feel positive emotions in the workplace, they are likely to search for another organization where it will be a better fit. Not only does this mean your organization could lose current talent, but it will affect your reputation in the market place as well. You don’t want to be known as a place where everyone is miserable and burnt out. This will make it a lot harder for you to attract the top talent you want and need.

Understanding Emotions

Organizations that understand and recognize that employees’ emotions are important and can positively or negatively impact performance, tend to have strong organizational cultures, which translates into higher levels of business success.

It’s important for leaders to remember that all employees, including themselves, bring their emotional “baggage” to work. World events, people’s personal lives, and several other external factors affect the emotions of your team members in addition to workplace situations.

Modern technology can make conveying emotions difficult. Tone is often tough to discern through an email or a text message. More often than not, this results in different people interpreting the same message in very different ways. In today’s fast-paced work environment, where more and more communication is done through text, the absence of tone and body language makes it increasingly difficult to gauge someone’s emotions.

For example, if someone asks a senior colleague a question by text and their reply is “Didn’t I teach you this? Let’s have a call at 3pm to discuss,” the colleague may perceive their response (“Oh, I must not have explained myself well before. Let’s talk to clarify”) or negatively (“I’ve already been over this with you. Did you forget? I guess I need to explain it again.”) How the message is interpreted will affect the emotions of the person receiving the message.

That’s why it’s important that leaders give team members various opportunities to speak to each other verbally rather than just through written communication. This can include phone calls, collaborate tools, in person meetings, video chats, etc. When two people have communicated frequently with words, they’re less likely to misinterpret the tone of a text message in the future because they can anticipate the other person’s meaning. This doesn’t mean that we don’t need to spend time clarifying message or ensure understanding, because we do. But it means that trust has been created and we can more easily interpret, understand or clarify any misunderstandings.

Influencing Emotional Culture

At first glance, it seems like it would be very difficult (if not impossible) to measure and track the emotional culture of an organization. After all, emotions can change quickly and they might be different for each person. However, emotional intelligence is a key skill for leaders to possess. This means knowing that emotions affect how people act and think, and identifying how this affects their interactions with others, becomes a critical people leadership skill.

You can’t mandate that people feel a certain way. Think about any time you’ve ever told a friend to “smile” or “cheer up.” Did that work? It likely didn’t. Emotions aren’t something that we can flip on and off with ease. However, this doesn’t mean that leaders can’t take steps to shape an organization’s emotional culture.

Leaders should sit down and have conversations with team members on a regular basis about how they are feeling, what’s going on in their lives and how positive or negative emotions have impacted their performance. This will build trust and open dialogue. It lets employees know that their emotions are respected and that they are valued. It’s also important that the organization gives team members opportunities to provide feedback on how workplace situations make them feel. This can by done through meetings, surveys, suggestion boxes, etc.  This is often done after an organization lays off employees.  The remaining colleagues are engaged in dialogue to help them process any hurt, anger or sadness they feel.  The challenge is that most organizations don’t create a strong emotional culture on an on-going basis.  Don’t wait for “crisis mode” before you build a strong emotional foundation for employees.

Leaders should always remember that emotions are “contagious” and an organization’s emotional culture starts at the top. If leaders are regularly happy, energetic, and positive, the rest of the team will likely follow. However, if leaders are angry and give off negative emotions, these feelings will move throughout the organization as well.  I have seen this far too many times in teams I have led or client groups I have supported.  Once the culture of the leadership changes, it can have disastrous effects on the emotional well-being of team members.

Brainstorm ways that your leaders, and the organization as a whole, can acknowledge employees’ emotions, can support employees, and can leverage the positive energy and minimize the impact of negative emotions. By investing time in understanding the “emotional vibe” of your workplace on a regular basis, you will be able to better support your team members and ensure the emotional culture of the organization is positive and attractive to all employees.

Giselle Kovary

As president and co-founder of n-gen People Performance Inc., Giselle is dedicated to building strategies and programs that target, motivate and engage a multigenerational workforce. She is a sought after resource to industry leaders, having worked with 18 of the top Fortune 500 companies. Over 60,000 people globally have experienced an n-gen workshop or presentation. She has devoted more than fifteen years to researching the impact that generational differences have on organizational performance. Giselle has co-authored two books: Loyalty Unplugged: How to Get, Keep & Grow All Four Generations and Upgrade Now: 9 Advanced Leadership Skills. She has a Master’s degree in communication studies from the University of Windsor.

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