Do managers understand the role of emotions in work?

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I got that quoted part above from this article, which makes a lot of tremendous points about emotions and work. Problem is, none of the points would be understood by most managers or high-level people in a business, which is the general problem of thought leadership. People talk at this esoteric unicorn rainbow level, and most biz guys just want a plan to get more leads and get shit done and out the door. That’s it. No one really cares about “Whole-Hearted Leadership” except the consultant selling it through keynotes, naw mean? It’s a game. Know your space in it.

For example, at the beginning of that article, they talk about “perspective-taking,” which is arguably the №1 business skill of modern times. It means looking at how the other person is feeling about a work situation / potential deal and responding to that. Do people do this in business? Sure. Is it common? No. Most people barge ahead with whatever they need in a given context. Also, if you said “perspective-taking” to an executive, they would view it as fluffy shit like Paltrow saying “conscious uncoupling.” It’s a term to make fun of, not embrace. That’s the problem with a lot of these supposed “work solutions:” they don’t use vocabulary that would make a decision-maker interested/care/want to follow through. They use words that decision-makers would guffaw at. Sad but true.

Still, I think we all know emotions are fairly important at work. We’re all emotional creatures, as much as work process wants us to be logical heads-down target-blasters. We spend a lot of time at, with, or thinking about work. We have to interact with people from different backgrounds, with different skill sets, with different insecurities, who we are only around because the same place is paying us both. You think that doesn’t get emotional? It does.

And lest you think it’s all negative, no. The power of having friends at work is huge. The power of gratitude at work is huge too. The positive emotional side of work is very real — people sob and bawl when they leave jobs, talking about how they’ll miss everyone. (It’s often even true.) Good and bad emotions are everywhere professionally. But like, uh, um, er, do managers understand that?

“Bring your whole self to work”

The shift in the last 20 years has been from (a) “Work is work. Don’t bring your bullshit and baggage in here!” to (b) “Bring your whole self to work!” I am sure older generations bitch, moan, and bemoan this “millennial mindset,” but in reality a lot of 65 year-old guys bitch and moan all day about their emotions and expect we’ll all care because of their rank. Let’s be real about how it goes down, OK?

Now, I think this convo gets tricky in many spots. You should be able to bring your whole self to work, but again, for the 10,783rd time, work is a transaction at most places. You get stuff done, they pay you. If “bringing your whole self” is preventing the stuff from getting done, then it’s a problem. We need to acknowledge that. The goal, or at least the supposed goal, is “productivity.” In reality the goal is often “completion of meaningless tasks,” but that’s for another post.

The problem with this “bring your whole self to work” idea, or even the idea of “authenticity” at work, is that managers have no idea how to handle it. Let me tell you what most managers focus on:

  • Meetings
  • Calls
  • Payroll and back-of-house stuff
  • Discipline
  • Making sure the work gets done
  • Long lunches to avoid work
  • Failed nooners with their wife
  • Etc.

The first two bullets take up about 85% of managerial time, honestly. A lot of managers, the so-called “absentee” ones, barely even speak to their direct reports — sorry, sorry, their “subordinates.” You think they have time to worry about emotions? Please. The first time an employee shows any negative emotion, they’re probably going to get slapped. (Not physically, like called into a meeting.) The second time? PIP city, baby. This is just reality when dealing with a lot of managers. They think emotions are a distraction to their core job of “making the trains run” (i.e. “sitting in meetings”), not something that powers their people. That’s the fatal flaw of most managerial thinking.

How do we get better at all this?

Main way would be to hire and promote more people with soft skills, so they would at least understand the relative importance of emotions in how people deal with a work week.

That’s not super likely to happen anytime soon, so some other ideas would be:

  • Use your precious tech to free up managerial time
  • Tell them to use that time to actually go speak to their team
  • Have workshops on emotions at work led by senior VPs and not HR
  • Allow people anonymous employee surveys or other ways to voice their emotions in a safe (key word) space
  • Just be human beings with each other

What might you add on this?

BTW, consider this pull quote from that article too, in this supposed era of “data everywhere:”

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Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money: http://thecontextofthings.com/hire-freelance-writer-ted-bauer/

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