Five keys to an emotionally well-regulated workplace

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You can create an emotionally healthy workplace!

You can become aware of the emotion work you do (and require from others) – and in so doing, you can create a supportive, emotionally well-regulated, and truly workable environment for everyone.

Karla McLaren, M.Ed.

There are literally thousands of books and programs that target the workplace in terms of how to make people into better workers and thereby increase productivity. Empathically speaking, most of them fail because they completely overlook unsupported emotion work and how it can drive behavior, undermine relationships, and lead to needless burnout.

If you understand emotion work and you care about your workplace, you can create a thriving social structure that supports the real work that goes on in most workplaces.

Understanding Emotional Dynamics at Work®

The key to making the workplace work for everyone is to create an emotionally well-regulated and comfortable environment where emotion work-loads are recognized, appreciated, and managed appropriately. With these goals in mind, here are five approaches to help you create an emotionally aware and productive workplace that is respectful of the social and emotional needs of everyone.

  1. Be aware of the emotional work-loads your colleagues are experiencing at home. In many (or most?) workplaces, people must manage their own emotions, soothe the emotions of others, and offer free empathy throughout the day. This is fine if people arrive at work with a surplus of energy and emotional vigor, but emotion work can be fatiguing if people are being emotionally drained at home. Sometimes, the workplace can be an oasis of order and reliability in the area of emotion work – it can even be an escape from a chaotic or troubled home environment – but if it isn’t, please be alert to the pre-existing social and emotional condition of your colleagues.
  2. Support people’s right to be comfortable at work. Most workplace layouts are based on cost savings or on current fads in workplace organization – but they are rarely focused on the reality that people live at work. If people work 30 to 45 hours per week, they spend more time at work than they do at home or with their families. Only our bedrooms compete with the workplace in terms of how much time we spend there. We spend our lives at work, and we need to be physically and emotionally comfortable in our workplace environments.
  3. Identify any unsupported emotion work and acknowledge it openly. Observe the emotion-work requirements at your workplace. Which emotions are required in interactions with customers, suppliers, and co-workers? Is empathy toward customers required but unacknowledged? Is there any support in place for people who are overwhelmed or heading toward empathic burnout? And what kinds of emotional rules are active, and for whom?
  4. Identify and acknowledge any emotional inequality. Are the emotion rules different at different levels of the organization? Can one person or group display (for instance) anger, depression, or anxiety, while everyone else must display only happiness and complacency? Is empathy available to everyone, or is it only directed at clients and customers? To the extent that you can, acknowledge any unequal or differential emotion work and empathy work openly.
  5. Welcome open conversations about emotion work. Burnout occurs when people aren’t allowed to identify or speak about their emotion work or their professionalized empathy requirements. You can help to create a healthier, more functional, and more emotionally well-regulated workplace if you can simply speak openly and honestly about emotion work and empathy.

You can become aware of the emotion work you do, and of the emotion work and empathy work you require from others – and in so doing, you can create a supportive, emotionally well-regulated, and truly workable environment for everyone.

Thank you for bringing more emotional awareness and more empathy to your workplace. People live at work. Thank you for making their homes-away-from-home livable, emotionally aware, and respectfully productive.

Learn more about Emotional Dynamics at Work

Karla McLaren, M.Ed. is an award-winning author, social science researcher, and empathy pioneer. She is the developer of the Emotional Dynamics at Work® program.