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This quarter highlighted a topic that I have previously researched through a life coaching lens, and that’s the effect individual emotions have on performance and company (or family) culture. How important is culture, exactly? Well, research suggests that 66% of candidates indicate company culture is a fundamental consideration in their search (Bellis, 2016). This implies a collective desire to deeply connect with our work, without sacrificing authenticity (Brown, 2018, p.25). I’ll go out on a limb here and theorize that few things are as authentic as our emotional experience. Understanding the emotive landscape and its related behaviors can help organizations and their individuals navigate stress and burnout (Nagoski & Nagoski, 2019) and increase engagement (Garton, 2017).

It is well documented that human behavior is heavily influenced by structure and culture (Brackett, 2019, p.224). It’s vitally important to understand the way we interact with others and our general demeanor, as it undeniably affects our environment. Just ask any parent that’s been triggered by their unassuming toddler or a dysregulated adult. But if your personal poll isn’t enough, research shows a 50% increase in positive experiences like inspiration, respect, and happiness and a 30-40% decrease in frustration, anger, and stress when supervisors have strong emotion skills (Brackett, p. 232). Individual levels of self-awareness, mindfulness and emotional intelligence affect overall atmosphere. We feed off one another, picking up a spectrum of emotional states that impacts subsequent behavior. This phenomenon, known as “emotional contagion”, is a common social challenge (Brackett, p.222-223) that can negatively affect performance (Visser, V. A. et al., 2012, p.173). Since we “catch” each other’s emotions, we should learn how to “soft-hand” them with supportive emotional coaching. Organizations can take responsibility for this development by investing in the support.

Ideal performance is a fluctuation between energy expenditure and recovery (Loehr & Schwartz, 2001). In an “always-on”, productivity-valued culture, recovery may be viewed as an earning or bonus, when in fact it’s a survival requirement. I won’t go into detail surrounding the evolutionary science of the nervous system, but in short…we weren’t built for this consistent level of abrasive stimulation. Thankfully, each of us have a unique recipe for regulation, and share a lot of the same ingredients, just with different measurements. Regulation activities include things like crying, body movement, social interaction, creativity, meditation and mindfulness (Nagoski & Nagoski, p.16-18). But the reality is, we struggle with this. Many adults are disconnected from their needs or fail to prioritize them. These life skills are much less commonly taught in independence-valued, Western cultures (Ford & Mauss, 2015, p.2). This correlates with research by Lean In Org. in partnership with McKinsey and Company that reported an 8.5%pp increase in burnout from 2020 to 2021 (Women in The Workplace, 2021, p. 13), with emotional suppression making it worse (Brackett, p. 236).

Burnout is defined by having the following three criteria: 1) emotional exhaustion, caring too much for too long; 2) depersonalization, a decreased sense of empathy; and 3) a decreased sense of accomplishment, like nothing you do is going to make a difference (Nagoski & Nagoski, p.xi). To decrease burnout, we must prioritize support in these areas by identifying those at risk, having consistent conversations outside of performance reviews, and prioritizing time for exploration and rest. At Google, they call this “20 percent time” which is one day a week to focus on something outside of your job responsibilities (Becoming irresistible: A new model for employee engagement, 2015). I find this incredible, especially for employees with a significantly higher mental load, like primary caregivers and primary domestic tasker. That time could alleviate a significant amount of stress from the societal pressure to “handle it all with grace.” Andrew Knight, a Professor at Washington University showed in a 24,000-respondent study that within emotionally healthy cultures, there are lower levels of exhaustion and employees take fewer sick days (Brackett, p.236). This seems like an obvious correlation, that we’re still explaining through data, because our society significantly devalues emotional labor. The fact is, when people are healthy and energized, they’re engaged and productive. If organizations and their leaders desire more engagement and productivity, then they’d be mindful to invest in the heath of their employees. We need courageous leaders who care about and are connected to the people they lead (Brown, p.12). We want to be seen, valued, and validated. It’s that simple.

Companies that manage their culture see a 40% boost in employee engagement (Becoming irresistible: A new model for employee engagement, 2015), by investing in time, talent and energy management through education, training, additional benefits, and time for exploration (Garton, 2017). Derrick Leong and his team at Accenture Australia understand this and reason that engagement is a personal issue, requiring a focus on the whole human. They use a framework called SELF: Self-Discovery, Empathy, Language, and Feedback, to meet this requirement. I appreciate this structure so much because it balances the internal work of self-discovery with community through empathy, language, and feedback. This also builds more authenticity, trust, and intellectual humility by reflecting on personal experiences in relationship to surrounding experiences. By investing in their staff’s personal development, Leong and his team exceeded expectations by a factor of 4 with increased engagement scores, retention, and productivity (Leong, D. et al., 2022). When people feel seen, they shine. This model compliments other frameworks such as the Performance Pyramid that addresses the body, mind, spirit, emotions, and related rituals (Loehr & Schwartz, 2001). The spiritual aspect being huge for me, personally. A larger vision, a why, something greater than ourselves, whatever you’d like to call it, drives a deeper level of commitment. This is not to be confused with religion but can have some similar effects. Spirituality being more of an internal, yet unified, guidance system driving universal mission and values. This structure highlight the importance of internal work through reflection and introspection, which correlate with increased emotional intelligence (Brackett, p.19), engagement (ICF, 2016, p.3), and positive ROI (ICF, 2009, p.11)

It's a powerful thing when data aligns with an inner knowing that we should be more deeply connected to our work and each other to achieve a more authentic, collective well-being. As a life coach, I’ve focused on stress, burnout, family culture and emotional intelligence for years and now see this incredible crossover to the workforce. It puts so many past professional experiences into perspective and is extraordinarily empowering. To see how a few basic life skills of emotional intelligence and effective communication can change our experience and the world at large. As we’ve learned in this course, it may not be within our domain of control to change an entire ecosystem, it may within our realm of influence to direct its course. Honoring the humans at work makes the work matter.


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1 Comment

Lindsay Friedman
Lindsay Friedman
Jul 07, 2022

I left nursing because I didn't know how to handle my emotions. Seriously. If I had to boil down why it was so hard and why I burnout out so fast was I lacked foundational skills required to manage stress environments. Doing this work changes the way I parent, run client sessions, manage relationships, plan my future... Everything. These skills are essential to our over wellbeing 💜 .

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