On Emotions at Work

It’s the way we make you feel…

A generation or more of international air travelers will remember the phrase above, followed by “that makes us the world’s favourite airline.”

The appeal to emotions in selling a product or service is as well-established as the advertising industry itself – an industry by the way, that even with the encroachment of social media, still shows global expenditure in the region of US$550 billion in 2017.1 Social media itself of course not only offers brands a new way to speak to consumers; but also a powerful channel for consumers to reflect the emotions they feel about their experiences of products and services.

Until recently, much less attention has been paid to the role of emotions in the workplace. But the significant increase in understanding of human cognitive processes arising from neuroscience has application not only in the new world of ‘neuromarketing’, but also in helping shape understanding of the mechanisms by which the ideas, intentions and desires of an individual leader can translate most efficiently into collective action and value creation.

Guess what? Those same human beings whose decisions as consumers are a complex mix of rational and emotional ‘benefits’, bring very similar qualities to work with them every day.

As human beings, we are emotional as well as rational – and emotions will often bypass rationality. We don’t behave in endlessly predictable ways; our behaviour is shaped by unconscious desires, anxieties and motivations. We’re social beings – how we are in any given situation is shaped by, and shapes, how others around us are. We make choices in the way we show up at work: some of us do ‘just enough’; others over-deliver and still others go way above the call of duty, often in the service of some higher sense of purpose. And we often play multiple roles in our lives – and what is going on in any part of our life can affect all the other parts (as evidenced by what happens at home after a stressful day at work!)

In a world where complexity and urgency conspire to create a toxic cocktail of stress, change fatigue (cited recently by the Corporate Executive Board2 as the leading risk factor in employee productivity and performance) and burnout, our work has shown time and again that these ‘human dimensions of change’ are the route to reducing the fatigue factor and bringing about meaningful, generative change. The root of the answer, we have found, lies in treating change as context, rather than just an ‘objective’.
When leaders connect change with context and purpose, the emotional resources of their employees can be a powerful force and source of resilience rather than the resistance so often associated with change.

Ultimately, it comes down to the way we make you feel…

1– ‐advertising– ‐spending/
2 Corporate Executive Board: Keep an Eye On Employee Change Fatigue’, 06 July 2017


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