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We must safeguard emotion in the future workplace

Opinion

Published by:

30 August 2019

Author: Kelli Lane

Image: Non-Objective Tables, Atelier Avéus, by Morgane Roux-Lafargue

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From companies with ‘care’ as a core value to hiring for EQ, why appreciating your teams’ emotions will drive greater value for tomorrow’s businesses

‘It’s not personal, it’s business’. The line uttered by Michael Corleone in The Godfatherhas gone down in history. But, thankfully, it’s not a sentiment that corresponds with the modern workplace. Successful leaders in top companies have one thing in common: they care about their employees, customers, clients and business.

A raft of academic literature has appeared in recent years emphasising that making space for emotion in the workplace creates a healthier culture. Broadly speaking the science behind this is that when people feel safe and nurtured, their bodies release more serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine, physically enabling them to feel calm but energised – the best state to be in for creative thinking and problem solving.

Additionally, emotions actually contribute to intuitive, experience-based decision making. Neurological research has shown that as your brain encounters events, choices and people, it processes and ‘tags’ them with emotional significance. Later, when you have similar experiences, our brains access these tags as a shortcut to producing the appropriate feelings. So feelings, if embraced and acknowledged, actually trigger more intuitive, quick-twitch decision making that is grounded in experience.

But what does this mean for workplaces of the future? In my opinion, the most successful businesses are likely to be the ones who embrace a handful of key philosophies. Firstly, making it about the team. The job for leaders is to put their team first. This is a driving principle of Elon Musk’s perspective on leadership. ‘Leaders are expected to work harder than those who report to them and always make sure that their needs are taken care of before yours,’ he says. Successful businesses in the 2020s will ensure managers view their role as enabling the team to do their jobs.

Non-Objective Tables, Atelier Avéus, by Morgane Roux-Lafargue
'When people feel safe and nurtured, their bodies release more serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine – the best state for creative thinking and problem solving'

Companies will also walk the emotional walk. More and more, successful businesses will build a culture of emotional security into their workplaces. We’re already seeing that among leading organisations which explicitly include emotions in their management principles – PepsiCo, Southwest Airlines, Whole Foods Market, The Container Store and Zappos all list ‘love’ or ‘caring’ among their corporate values. This drives their culture, it drives their actions, and it defines how they do business.

Finally, they will connect emotion to business value. Hiring for intellectual intelligence is giving way to hiring for both intellectual and emotional intelligence (EQ). Research has pointed to this for some time: a group of psychologists from Carnegie Mellon, M.I.T. and Union College conducted research on team dynamics and intelligence. After putting teams through a series of challenges, they found that what distinguished the ‘good’ teams from the dysfunctional groups was how teammates treated one another. The top teams all had high ‘average social sensitivity’ – being skilled at intuiting how others felt based on their tone of voice, their expressions and other non-verbal cues. EQ creates higher performing teams, that ultimately create higher performing businesses.

Thomas Watson, the former chairman and CEO of IBM, encapsulates this perfectly: ‘To be successful, you have to have your heart in your business and your business in your heart.’ He was spot on. Because creating a space where emotion is valued is guaranteed to also improve the value of your business.

Kelli Lane is head of client engagement at innovation consultancy co:collective. For more on the shifting attitudes and innovations that will shape the future of work, explore our dedicated vertical on LS:N Global.

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