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Camelia Petrus, PGDip in Psychology majoring in I/O (work) psychology.
Senior Consultant Business Development Lynch & Associates
Member of OPRA Psychology Group
Member of Genos International
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Employee Engagement, Leadership By Dr. Ben Palmer & Deiric McCann
A lot of different elements underlie organisational success. You’ve got to be in the right place, at the right time, with the right product and with the right people. But even with the best of these, a great workplace culture truly matters. Do you know the emotional culture of your organisation?
Eventually competitors can come along and replicate your best practices, strategies and processes. As Herb Kelleher from Southwest Airlines once famously said “All airlines have aeroplanes.”
According to Kelleher, “We’ve never had layoffs. We could have made more money if we furloughed people. But we don’t do that. And we honor them constantly. Our people know that if they are sick, we will take care of them. If there are occasions of grief or joy, we will be there with them. They know that we value them as people, not just cogs in a machine.”
So consequently, culture matters.
Culture is defined many ways, one of the more commercial ways of thinking about it is this, culture is the degree of alignment between strategy and the way employees think and behave.
In 2016, HBR ran an article titled Manage Your Emotional Culture. The article talks about and distinguishes between Cognitive Culture and Emotional Culture. It goes on to talk about the fact that emotional culture is rarely managed as deliberately as cognitive culture and that it’s often not managed at all. It gives some great examples of how much companies suffer as a result. Employees who should be showing compassion (in health care, for example become callous and indifferent. Teams that would benefit from joy and pride instead tolerate a culture of anger. People who lack a healthy amount of fear (say, in security firms or investment banks) act recklessly. The effects can be especially damaging during times of upheaval, such as organisational restructurings and financial downturns.
Where to start in understanding Emotional Culture?
To discuss and understand the concept of emotional intelligence and emotional culture, first we need to look at the underlying science of emotions. Why do we react the way we do, how does others’ behaviour impact us the way it does?
We all experience a wide range of pleasant and unpleasant feelings at work as we interact with colleagues, customers, suppliers and others. These feelings influence our decisions, behaviour and performance.
Pleasant feelings have a ‘broaden and build’ effect causing us to think more broadly, engage more deeply and perform better.
Unpleasant emotions tend to have a ‘narrowing and limiting’ effect, causing us to be more closed-minded, less engaging and poorer at performing. Collectively, these emotions impact the bottom-line for better or worse.
Let’s start with positive/pleasant emotions.
Think about your experiences in the workplace for a moment. When people feel relaxed at work, they tend to be solution focused. When they feel involved, they often promote the brand. When they feel cared for by the company, they go above and beyond in the level of discretionary effort they put towards the company. Finally, employees that are empowered are often the hardest working and innovative team members.
Let’s look at negative or unpleasant emotions.
When people feel anxious, they are more likely to be reactive. When stressed, we can become aggressive. It’s human nature. When an employee feels fearful, they can sometimes blame others. Finally, when people feel disempowered, they can assume a lack of responsibility and ownership for their work. We’ve all been there.
Research shows that people in high performing organisations experience more positive emotions and fewer negative emotions than those in low performing organisations. (Boedker et al. 2011)
So why aren’t more organisations working to focus on understanding how their people are feeling and managing their Emotional Culture?
How do your employees feel right now?
Often, companies release employee engagement surveys that are confidential, but staff that are struggling or feeling fearful may not respond in the most honest way for fear of repercussion. Or some measure Net Promoter Score – how likely you are to recommend a company to others or as a customer, how likely you are to recommend the products. Some organisations have even had volunteers use wearables to measure things like tone of voice, body language, frequency of social interactions, and participation in meetings.
Emotional culture surveys are the most direct and impactful way to measure emotional culture because they measure three distinct things to help identify whether or not emotions experienced need to shift.
It measures three dimensions of emotions at work:
1. Current Emotions
How often your team members experience certain feelings at work.
2. Fair and reasonable emotions
How often they think it’s fair and reasonable to experience these feelings at work given the nature and context of your workplace.
3. Ideal Emotions
How often they think they should ideally experience these feelings in your workplace in order to be effective.