Why You Should Care About Emotional Culture

The importance of a strong corporate culture is one of the rock-solid tenets of the business world. Organizational leaders often get everyone on the same page by emphasizing corporate culture, and by defining their company’s values, beliefs, philosophy, ethics, standards of behavior, and personality. But what about “emotional culture?”

Emotional culture, a less well-known component of work culture, is getting more attention these days. Two business management professors, Sigal Barsade and Olivia O’Neill, have written insightfully about emotional culture, and they define it as the culture centered around the affective values of an organization—i.e., feelings, moods, and attitudes—in contrast to the cognitive values that typically make up the traditional corporate culture.

But are you wondering why you need to care about your employees’ emotions? It’s simple. Your employees’ emotional connections to their jobs have a substantial impact on bottom-line issues like productivity, workplace engagement, and how they present themselves to your customers.

And, as Barsade and O’Neill point out, your employees will not necessarily express their moods or attitudes verbally. Emotions typically come out through facial expressions and body language. For that reason, it’s important that organization leaders pay attention and respond to their workers’ emotional cues.

Assessing Employee Emotions

The costs of ignoring emotional culture can be quite high. Dissatisfaction or disengagement from the workplace depresses productivity—and can also generate a higher rate of employee turnover, which can be extremely detrimental to a business’ bottom line. Conversely, employees who work in a culture that values their emotional well-being report higher levels of satisfaction, which leads to higher retention, better quality of work, and a stronger commitment to their employer.

Barsade and O’Neill cite examples of companies that actively monitor employee emotions, using technological tools or hiring consultants to track the moods of their workers, and correlating that information with what is happening in the workplace.

While the use of technological tools can be expensive, there are ways to assess employees’ emotions without making substantial expenditures. For example, you can conduct employee surveys to gauge their opinions and emotional satisfaction. Sometimes the very fact that managers have cared enough to ask can prove to provide a boost to employee attitudes. Try implementing the following tips:

  • Sit down with your staff on a regular basis and ask their opinions.
  • Talk about the various organizational matters that may affect their feelings and attitudes about doing their jobs.
  • Take the time to seek their feedback on a new corporate policy or procedure. Pose such questions as: Do you like the new policy? If not, why are you unhappy about it? How would you improve it?

Again, the fact that you, or your management team, are asking these questions shows you value employee input, which is an important first step in boosting your organization’s emotional culture.

Improving Emotional Culture

Once you can gauge the emotional culture in your organization, you may find yourself wondering what you can do to improve it. Here are some suggestions:

Open the lines of communication from the top down. Promoting an emotional culture starts at the top with an empathetic CEO who sets the tone and models the behavior for other executives and departmental managers. The leadership team can then also show empathy and employee concern. For example, a boss who greets employees with a smile and a sincere inquiry of, “How is your day?” is a lot more likely to engender a positive reaction than the supervisor who often has a sour expression and usually only speaks to workers to level complaints.

Acknowledge significant life events. Celebrate birthdays, weddings, and the birth of new babies with cakes or office parties. Also, acknowledge in a personal way when an employee may be experiencing personal difficulties, such as the death of a parent or the end of a marriage. Employees who are facing personal challenges appreciate understanding from their boss and others in the organization. Knowing that an organization supports them emotionally in times of trouble will provide a stronger connection between the employer and the employee.

Show your team you value their hard work. People are more likely to expend the effort to do a good job if they know their efforts are appreciated. Let your staff know when they’ve met or exceeded expectations by providing verbal compliments, a congratulatory email, company-wide acknowledgment in a meeting, or a mention in a corporate newsletter. Also use the newsletter to acknowledge corporate anniversaries. On the major milestone anniversaries (10 years, 25 years, etc.), recognize the employee with a celebratory cake, gift, or plaque.

Build relationships outside of the office. Perhaps host an annual corporate picnic or holiday party, that allows employees become acquainted with each other’s spouses, significant others, and children. Getting to know your team as people helps you understand their motivations for working and build a better work environment for them. Once they know you care about them personally, they are more likely to work harder, have greater satisfaction in their jobs, and become more engaged in helping the organization succeed.

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