Feelings are meant to be expressed

“Most companies pay little attention to how employees are—or should be—feeling. They don’t realise how central emotions are to building the right culture.”



Feelings Are Meant to be Expressed



And yes, that means even in the workplace.

Our good friend Jeremy Dean of riders&elephants has created a simple yet highly effective deck of cards with conversation prompts for leaders and their teams and employees so that they can talk openly about workplace culture, emotions, and experiences. It’s called the Emotional Culture Deck. And one of the things that inspired Jeremey to create such a groundbreaking tool is an HBR article published in 2016 (and still very much relevant today): Manage Your Emotional Culture.



“Most companies pay little attention to how employees are – or should be – feeling. They don’t realise how central emotions are to building the right culture.”

What do most companies pay attention to then?

You’ve probably experienced it yourself, as you zero in on cognitive culture, those intellectual values, norms, artefacts, and assumptions that set the overall tone for how employees think and behave at work. Based on research conducted by the article’s authors, Barsade and O’Neill, cognitive culture is essential, but unfortunately, incomplete. Emotional culture, which deals with the feelings people have and express at work, completes the picture.

And when companies disregard emotional culture, fail to understand it, and discount employees’ emotions, their business operations and bottom line tend to suffer as a result. Why? Because emotional culture impacts employee satisfaction, burnout, teamwork, and even financial performance and absenteeism.

The article is comprehensive (long!) and takes a deep dive into ways emotional culture manifests at work. Here are some of those instances and case studies:


1. A culture of joy – In a hospitality business like Vail Resorts, “having fun” is a must. Executives consistently model joy so employees can help customers have fun too. They also encourage the company’s playful spirit to permeate everywhere, including company celebrations, special outings, and rewards. All of these tactics support their emotional culture.


2. A culture of companionate love – Companionate love is the affection, caring, and compassion that employees feel and express toward one another. It’s common outside the confines of the office but rarely mentioned by name in companies. One of the units at a U.S.-based long-term-care centre, which took part in a 16-month study on emotional culture, had lower absenteeism, less employee burnout, and more exceptional teamwork and job satisfaction compared to other units. All thanks to their culture of companionate love, which also influenced the positive customer satisfaction from their patients’ families. The results from this case study confirm that there’s indeed a secure connection between emotional culture and business performance.


3. A culture of fear – Negative emotions can also represent a company’s culture. In the true-story book, Turn this Ship Around!, retired Navy captain L. David Marquet challenged the U.S. Navy’s traditional command-and-control leadership approach and successfully uplifted the morale of the crew members of the USS Santa Fe. Marquet encouraged these crew members to take part in “high involvement” management techniques, which included empowering crew members to make decisions confidently and assuring them that won’t be yelled at for every work slip-up. Before this turnaround, crew members were in a constant state of fear for being reprimanded for every little thing. This impaired their ability to perform their best at work.


Shaping emotions in the workplace

So how can your organisation consciously shape and allow emotions into the workplace?


Three effective methods are listed:


1. Harness what people already feel.

Some employees already express their emotions naturally and regularly. For some, they need to be reminded to get in touch with their feelings. For those with toxic emotions, if you discourage them from venting, this could backfire spectacularly. Instead, help and teach them to handle ire-provoking office situations constructively. Fair warning, though, research cited in the article shows that excessive venting can also lead to adverse outcomes.  [It’s the emotion we want to have expressed – not the mood!]


2. Model the emotions you want to cultivate.

Be conscious of the positive or negative energy you radiate the moment you enter the office building – your emotional wake. It’s infectious, and this could either be a good or bad thing depending on your mood.   [You are the leader whether in title or not – so make sure we are triggering the right mirror neurons in those around you and make sure your people are catching the right emotions.  And make sure that just like a cold, your people realise they can infect others around them – raise awareness.] 


3. Get people to fake it till they feel it. 

Even when your colleagues are “just not feeling it,” they can still contribute to your company’s emotional culture. Findings from a Social Psychology research included in the HBR piece show that people, more often than not, conform to group norms so they can be liked and accepted. In other words, even if an employee’s initial motivation is to be compliant rather than to embody the office culture from the get-go, he or she will begin to demonstrate and embrace it as long as the workplace has a strong emotional culture.  [Consistency and persistency is key.]




Want more?

Want to explore more about how to include the missing piece of the puzzle and engage emotions in the workplace?  Then get in touch and we can walk you through how to use the Emotional Culture Deck for one-to-ones, weekly check ins, employee engagement, determining your emotional culture, customer experience, leadership development and coaching, conflict resolution and more.




We’re taking this opportunity to shamelessly plug our upcoming #CULTURE19 all-day immersion. If you haven’t heard yet, Jeremy will be leading a workshop on company culture with the help of– you’ve guessed it–the Emotional Culture Deck. If you’re as excited as we are to experience this unique company culture exercise, then reserve your seat at the table for #CULTURE19 here. You’ll get to see the Emotional Culture Deck in action and be able to ask Jeremy all of your questions.


Want to sit at the #CULTUREBites Table to engage with an incredible peer group, and develop your company culture and leadership muscles in an enriching environment?


Join the #CULTUREBites Membership, and reserve your seat at the #CULTUREBites Table here so you can co-create the conversation with our inspiring conversation leaders on the 3rd Wednesday of each month.

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