The workplace can be a stressful environment, with employees facing changes in company direction, reorganization of teams, constant deadlines, competing priorities, and interpersonal conflicts.
As a result of the stress, emotions often come out at work, impacting performance, relationships, and overall wellbeing.
Acknowledging and making space for emotions is essential to help employees cope with these stressors and build resilience.
As the late Sigal Barsade said, “Every organization has an emotional culture, even if it’s one of supression”.
The Importance of Making Space for Emotions in the Workplace
Acknowledging and allowing emotions to be expressed in a safe and supportive environment makes employees feel seen and heard.
This can help to reduce feelings of isolation and disconnection and promote a sense of belonging.
A 2021 study found that when a supervisor showed concerns for others’ emotional state, it built trust.
This happened even if the supervisor misread the emotion as negative (when the person was feeling positive).
On the flipside, when the negative emotions weren’t addressed, there was a decrease in trust.
When employees feel that their emotions are valued, they are more likely to engage with their work and with their colleagues. This can lead to greater job satisfaction and retention.
Acknowledging and making space for emotions also promotes self-awareness and emotional intelligence.
Encouraging employees to recognize and express their emotions helps them become more attuned to their own emotional states and better able to regulate their responses to stress.
This can help employees to manage their emotions more effectively and respond to challenging situations in a more productive and positive manner.
Finally, acknowledging and making space for emotions can lead to greater creativity and innovation in the workplace.
Giving employees the space to express their emotions increases the likelihood of them sharing ideas and collaborating with colleagues.
This can lead to new insights and approaches to problem-solving, and help organizations to adapt and thrive in an ever-changing business landscape.
Strategies for Making Space for Emotions in the Workplace
Understanding your emotional culture is the first step. How does your organization address emotions?
When employees express disatisfaction, how is it addressed?
If the company is going through hard times, do leaders communicate about it?
Does your company reward people who always see the bright side and don’t bring up problems?
If your company is not one to acknowledge or address emotions, you may want to start small and understand where the emotional supression is steming from.
Here are a few strategies for creating a workplace culture that acknowledges and makes space for emotions:
Offer Employee Listening Sessions
Continually listening to your employees can help you keep a pulse of what’s going on in your organization.
These listening sessions should be followed up with what can be acted upon and what can’t.
If you can’t take action on these listening sessions, bypass this step.
If your employees spend time offering their perspective and you don’t do anything with the information, then it will break trust and stop your employees from sharing.
Model Vulnerability and Authenticity
Leaders who share their own emotions and vulnerabilities with their teams create a culture where emotions are seen as a natural and valid part of the work experience.
Leaders can set the tone for emotional openness by sharing their own experiences of stress, anxiety, or failure, and by expressing empathy and support for others who may be struggling.
Leaders can also create space for their teams to surface concerns about projects, company changes, or work conflicts.
It’s not the leaders job to solve the problems surfaced, but rather to offer time and opportunity to express emotions without penalty.
Provide Resources and Support for Employees who are Struggling with Difficult Emotions
This might include access to mental health services, employee assistance programs, or other resources that can help employees manage stress, anxiety, or other emotional challenges.
It’s not the leader’s job to be a therapist or provide counseling to their employees.
It is a leader’s job to express concern for their team member and refer to the appropriate resources. Being well versed on available company resources can help the leader in that situation.
Promote a Culture of Mindfulness and Self-Awareness.
By encouraging employees to cultivate practices like meditation, yoga, or journaling, organizations can help employees to build resilience and manage their emotions more effectively.
Mindfulness practices can also help employees to develop greater self-awareness and emotional intelligence, which can support more effective communication and collaboration in the workplace.
Create Opportunities for Emotional Expression and Processing
This might include regular team meetings where employees can share their feelings and experiences, or team-building activities that promote emotional connection and support.
By creating a safe and supportive space for emotional expression, organizations can help employees to feel more connected and engaged, and better equipped to cope with the challenges of their work.
Acknowledging and making space for emotions in the workplace is critical to building workplace resilience.
When emotions are not addressed, it can lead to decreased trust, job dissatisfaction, and poor overall wellbeing.
On the other hand, when emotions are valued and employees feel safe to express them, it can lead to greater creativity, innovation, and a sense of belonging.
It’s important for leaders to understand their organization’s emotional culture and take steps to make space for emotions in order to support their employees’ wellbeing and success.