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    Why we need to pay closer attention to emotions at work

    Written by Becci Gould

    The headline of Gallup’s recent State of the Global Workplace report states that “In today’s typical organisation, most employees are neither engaged nor actively disengaged.”  

    This isn’t surprising given the rise of quiet quitting, extensive change fatigue and ever-changing expectations of work. Yet, it’s also critical we don’t take this at surface value. Just because our employees aren’t actively engaged or disengaged, doesn’t mean they’re not experiencing a myriad of emotions in the workplace. Emotions that could be telling us a lot more than we realise.  

    According to Gallup’s study, nearly half of their respondents are stressed (and quite a few are angry). Anger is reported slightly higher in females (23%) than males (20%), and higher in South Asia (36%) and the Middle East (32%) than Europe (14%), Australia (15%) and Latin America (13%). US (18%) is fairly middling. Interestingly, intent to leave the business follows a similar pattern country by country showing serious financial implications if these emotions are not tackled and managed.  

    What needs to change? 

    For too long, the tendency has been to avoid, hide or even dismiss strong emotions in the workplace. Despite the shifts towards vulnerability in leadership, recognising and taking note of feelings, emotions and human reactions isn’t a widespread discipline. Even today, language around emotions is often seen as soft, unnecessary and completely disconnected from the business outcomes required.  

    At United Minds, a consultancy focused on making business more human, we’re out to prove that this line of thinking needs an evolution. Now more than ever, employees are increasingly being bombarded with new programmes to get behind, messages to disseminate, and in many cases, fundamental shifts to how they work on a day-to-day basis.  

    Without paying attention to the true emotions behind our workforce, how will we know if they’re truly supporting the changes that are coming down the track, how can we know how much change fatigue they’re really feeling and how can we possibly plan change management interventions that will actually work? By paying closer attention to these emotions, we can lead more effective change programmes, realise business results much faster and retain and engage more employees in the process.  

    Four ways to unlock emotions to drive change 

    1. Create opportunities to share emotions – In a client workshop recently, we asked leaders to share where they were in the energy and state matrix. This useful tool acknowledges that no employee is going to be constantly in performance mode, that recovery time is needed, and that survival mode can only be sustained for so long before burnout becomes a reality. By creating a safe environment we identified that over 25% of the group were in survival or burnout mode; insight that allowed the senior leadership team to plan their transformation efforts and expectations they put on leaders more effectively.  
    1. Use emotional insights to inform change management approaches – the best change management teams in the world don’t just blindly follow change management toolkits and theories. By taking a human approach to change, they create mechanisms and forums to capture and uncover emotional reactions in real time from the outset. Approaches like applying the SCARF model or listening activities to uncover real emotional responses. Then use this insight to create change management tactics that genuinely tackle these emotions.  
    1. Train line managers and people leaders to identify and address emotional reactions – EQ remains a core skill of any business leader today. Organisations that take this seriously are hiring and training managers to be able to take this to the next level, specifically focusing on how to manage these reactions in a fast-changing environment. Approaches like displaying empathy, asking open questions and playing back what’s been heard to ensure people feel listened to then drawing on tools and techniques to manage the responses i.e. introducing frameworks like the energy matrix above. We’ve seen increases in requests for these kind of training programmes over the past year, with those participating reporting the importance and impact of investing in this area.  
    1. Build self-awareness and resilience as core competencies – When people in the organisation are aware of their feelings and recognise them at work, it is more likely that they will be able to work with them in a way that will not be harmful for their mental health and disruptive in the workplace. This personal resilience can enable employees to find better ways to address stressful situations, be more focussed and productive in times of constant change and grow as individuals and professionals. 

    Try these strategies out and let us know how it goes. It may be uncomfortable at first, but we believe it’ll be worth it. For more information