Some fund firms are coming to employees’ emotional rescue by being more accepting of displays of tears, anxiety and frustration.
Eaton Vance, Nationwide Financial and Prudential are among the firms that are paying closer attention to the role of emotions in the workplace. They’re doing that not only through greater acceptance of employees' showing their emotions, but also by prizing emotional intelligence in the interview process and helping employees learn how to deal appropriately with difficult feelings.
Nowadays, emotions are running high. Employees are worried about losing their jobs. They’re working longer hours than ever before and often doing so with fewer colleagues to help accomplish big goals.
“The stressful economy has had the effect of ramping and amping up the emotional tensions within the workplace,” says Anne Kreamer, author of It’s Always Personal — Emotions in the New Workplace. “It increases anxiety and frustration that lead to greater incidence of anger and tears.”
While the challenging economy has brought emotions to the fore in many workplaces, the truth is those emotions were never far beneath the surface in the past.
“Human emotion will always be part of the workplace,” says Donald Gibson, associate professor at the Dolan School of Business, Fairfield University. “The workplace tends to generate stress; workers have strict deadlines, they have hierarchies. The question is whether [emotions] will get expressed.”
The old conventional wisdom was that emotions didn’t belong in the workplace.
The commonly held view was not to bring one’s personal life to the workplace and, at the same time, not to bring one’s problems home from work, says Michael Crom, chief learning officer for Dale Carnegie Training. “Big ones were never lose your temper, don’t cry, and control your facial expressions,” he says. “But then you are playing poker all the time.”
Even though some people still hold such views, the increasingly blurred lines between work and personal lives have made displays of emotion in the workplace more acceptable, experts say.
Many high-tech firms and financial institutions have the ideal that employees’ waking hours will be at work, Crom says. “When you do that, it is not possible to have a separate personal life.”
In addition, there’s greater awareness and acceptance of the fact that emotions are brought to work because they are integral to human behavior.
“You can’t actually avoid emotions,” says Kreamer, the author. “Our bodies are hardwired to survive based on emotions. They are regulatory functions. Our bodies become flooded with emotions when we feel threatened. But the threats we have in the 21st century are cognitive.”
Employers are becoming more accepting of the fact that employees can’t and shouldn’t check their emotions at the door.
“There is absolutely room for emotions in the workplace,” says Kenneth Dolan-Del Vecchio, VP in Prudential’s health and wellness department. “In fact, emotions are essential. Emotions are the currency of relationships.”
Since suppressing emotions is virtually impossible, firms are training managers on how to deal with their emotions and those of their subordinates in healthy and productive ways.
“Everything is situational, and ultimately you don’t want wild displays of emotions with groups of people,” says Crom of Dale Carnegie Training. “From time to time it is OK to let your hair down a little and show who you are.” Knowing the highest and lowest points of people reveals their greatest strengths, Crom says.
And showing oneself more authentically can include crying, even for senior managers.
“Many people interpret crying as the loss of control, but it is important to see that there are some circumstances under which that is the normal response,” Prudential’s Dolan-Del Vecchio says.
“If something terribly sad is happening, it is OK for the leader to show tears. It is very important for that person to show sadness and perhaps be a little disorganized in what they say. That conveys that the person is also feeling the pain. That way people see the reflection of their feelings. The point of connection is the showing of one’s sincere feelings.” In his position, Dolan-Del Vecchio has witnessed circumstances when the death of an employee is communicated to a team.
At Prudential, he says, managers are trained to be aware of and responsive to people’s feelings. But there is a lot of work to be done in order to make people feel comfortable with sharing their emotions in the workplace. “There is too little expression of feeling at work because we try too hard sometimes to be businesslike,” Dolan-Del Vecchio says.
That comes at a price, experts say.
“People are feeling angry as much as they always have but they are tending to mask it for fear of losing their jobs,” Fairfield University’s Gibson says. “If people do not feel like they can express their anger in constructive ways, emotions tend to come out in potentially very destructive ways. It is more effective to allow limited expressions of anger.”
Allowing emotions to be displayed and discussed enables teams to address issues before they get to the “explosion mode,” Gibson says.
In fact, even though experts agree expressions of emotions are integral to human relations at work, they say there are some displays of emotions that don’t belong in the workplace.
Anger is an emotion to be addressed carefully, experts say.
“Outrage or anger over injustice, inequality, unfairness or over some ludicrous process — that can be learned to be expressed in a way that is productive and helpful,” Kreamer says. “Anger directed at an individual is never acceptable. It is demeaning and demoralizing and not effective as a management tool.”
For Eaton Vance, managing emotions appropriately in the workplace has to do with emotional intelligence, an attribute the firm seeks in job candidates.
“Eaton Vance recognizes the value of considering emotional intelligence in its hiring practices and includes behavioral-based interviewing in the candidate search process. To better prepare managers and help facilitate this initiative, Eaton Vance regularly offers strategic interviewing workshops to provide instruction on how to interview for emotional intelligence,” Mark Burkhard, head of human resources for Eaton Vance, writes in an e-mail response to questions.
The firm has engaged executive coach Jen Shirkani in its recruiting process. “Emotion self-awareness helps people make better decisions,” she says. “Recognizing situations that might bring out a lot of emotions in you, you are not so easily triggered.”
For Nationwide Financial, handling emotions in the workplace requires preparation.
“We all have storms we face,” says John Carter, president of Nationwide Financial Distributors. “How we are prepared to handle those storms maybe is a little different for each one of us, but if our teams are physically and emotionally healthy, they are going to handle whatever gets in front of them.”
With that in mind, the firm engaged Shawn Achor, co-founder of the Institute of Applied Positive Research and a researcher in the field of positive psychology. The researcher addressed 180 of the firm’s highest achievers in a recent sales awards conference.
“When you are focusing on the positive psychology and focusing on the things that matter to the core of what a person is and help them get healthy around that, they achieve more at work and outside of work than they may ever have thought possible,” Carter says.