Seeing our employees for the whole-humans they are, “negative” emotions and all
I’m often struck by some of the bold statements made in social media. Given the work I do and the folks I choose to follow, I’m sometimes stopped in my tracks by how brilliant some are. The Self Space – a “contemporary mental health service” in London, UK – recently posted this on LinkedIn:
“If you expect employees to bring their whole selves to work, expect them to bring their shit too.”
It went on to say, “Grief, anger, sadness, disappointment, anxiety, heartbreak … these aren’t “unproductive” emotions, they’re human.”
Brilliant. And thank you, The Self Space. The last I checked, most organizations are still made up of (mostly) humans, so reading this post felt like a real “A-ha!” moment. You know the kind where you shout “Yes!” or “Amen!” or “Finally somebody gets it!” Organizational leaders and HR teams have been asking employees to give it their all at work for years, but do they realize what they’ve asked for? If you want me to bring everything I’ve got, prepare yourself for the good, the okay, and the sometimes unproductive. Because, let’s face it – no one can bring their “A game” every moment of every day. And it’s unrealistic to expect that we non-robots turn off certain emotions before walking through the workplace door.
Take the people who aren’t feeling as energetic as usual, or those who had an argument with a loved one the night before, or the parent who arrived to work late because their toddler wouldn’t put his shoes on and then they missed the bus. What about the parent who is worried about their teen who seems to be struggling with their mental health, or the daughter whose mother just received a scary medical prognosis? What does the leader whose wife told him she wants a divorce less than 12 hours ago do with his emotions when he gets to the office?
In reality, most organizations live by the unspoken norm that you don’t bring your negative emotions to work (unless, of course, those emotions drive results … a different topic for another time). But it feels as though that’s what is expected of us, doesn’t it?
I am reminded of what Susan David, author of Emotional Agility, said: “Our culture prizes positivity over emotional truth. … This is especially relevant in the workplace, where emotions like anger and sadness are traditionally seen as taboo. But these emotions are real, and they point to areas in our organizations where we’re experiencing challenges. When we ignore our difficult emotions at work, it robs us of the opportunity to learn, create change, and grow.”
Your employees are real humans (as are you!) and they have real human experiences. Does your organization allow for people to have “bad days?” As a leader, do you? What is your response to an employee who is showing less than what you’re used to seeing? Do you get frustrated? Angry? Do you ignore it? Or do you acknowledge that they aren’t showing up like usual, and offer support?
While your workplace is still free of robots who have replaced humans, ask your employees to give all they’ve got when they can, and support them on days they can’t. You’ll be rewarded with loyalty, commitment, and overall stellar performance, because people who feel seen will do just about anything for you.
Learn more about The Self Space and Susan David.