Joy, Love, Anger, Fear and Sadness…Organisational Emotional Culture…

Joy, Love, Anger, Fear and Sadness…Organisational Emotional Culture…

Foreword: I am not a psychologist in anyway shape or form and I am not pretending to be one; in this blog I am simply grappling with a sensitive subject and asking the question ‘where do you draw the line and is it truly worth crossing it?’

In all organisations tasks are completed to deliver upon the businesses strategic and operational goals. These are generally set by the management board or equivalent. The goals are painstakingly planned out detailing each and every aspect of the goals delivery including the process to be carried out, how long it should take, what it should cost, the attitude employees should have whilst conducting it and how employees should act to the outside world looking in. The employee’s expected behaviour is generally recognised as the company culture. Organisations expect and demand employees to operate in a certain way.

But what if a generally good employee doesn’t feel like toeing the line today?

In the role of manager you observe that the employee in question seems a bit touchy and something isn’t quite right, but you can’t put a finger on it; in fact, now you think about it she has been a bit off for a few weeks. Whatever it is, she seems distracted (again) and will probably not perform to her previously high standard today.

We will refer to this employee as ‘Anne-Marie’ from here on in for no particular reason at all, other than we are dealing with real life here.

Well, many managers will walk away thinking ‘whatever it is, it’s not my problem, they are paid to do a job and I expect them to do it. I am sure she will get over it’. An understandable reaction as managers’ have enough work to do after all, but why does Anne-Marie feel this way? Does she have a reason, perhaps one which is not work related?

A question, would Anne-Marie feel better and be more productive if she had an opportunity to talk it through, or maybe just the explicit support of the people around her?

Another typical management reaction ‘not my problem, I am sure she will sort herself out’; but is the real reason for not asking this question, that you just don’t want to hear the answer(?), as the concern of being stuck dealing with an issue that isn’t relevant to the business might take hours which you really can’t afford to lose?

Or could it be something far simpler than that? Is it the case that the manager has not got the confidence or is not equipped with the skill to ask the question (?); perhaps they don’t see it as there business and would rather not know?

But are you missing a business performance trick? Would Anne-Marie perform better for the rest of the day, week, month or year if you at least asked if she was ok and made her feel supported, or at the very least that someone cared?

So, the Real Question, is it worth my while asking THE question?

Let’s be honest, not everyone is a people-person, someone who feels it necessary to know details of people who work for, or with them, we aren’t all wired that way; but if there were evidence that I could create a better workplace, give better customer satisfaction, retain employees for longer, get more out of them when they are there and improve the overall value of the organisation by creating an environment where people feel safe and supported, I would be mad not to, right?

What I am referring to is the Emotional Culture of an organisation, unlike Cognitive Culture [generally referred to as company culture], which tends to deal with intellectual values such as integrity, autonomy, perseverance, humility etc. which sets the scene for how employees should think and behave at work; these are generally delivered verbally and are widely understood in management circles.

Whereas Emotional culture looks at the affective values; describes affective values as “objectives which emphasize a feeling tone, an emotion, or a degree of acceptance or rejection….expressed as interests, attitudes, appreciations, values, and emotional sets or biases”; by definition these are the feelings we draw upon when deciding if a person is friend or foe, will help or hinder etc. Emotional Culture tends to be delivered via non-verbal methods such as facial expression and body language but is drawn from deep seated feelings or values.

Research conducted by the Harvard Business Review state that organisations which have a healthy emotional culture and whom take active steps to engage employees on an emotional basis improve overall organisational performance. An emotional culture has been demonstrated to have significantly positive influence on “…employee satisfaction, burn-out, teamwork, and even hard measures such as financial performance and absenteeism.”

The article states that employees with “…Positive emotions are consistently associated with better performance, quality, and customer service—this holds true across roles and industries and at various organizational levels”.

Whereas the absence of positive emotions has been proven to have a negative impact on the workplace and a detrimental impact on performance: Harvard Business Review observed that “…Negative emotions such as group anger, sadness, fear, and the like usually lead to negative outcomes, including poor performance and high turnover [of employees]”.

Now, I would be the first to accept that everything can’t be positive all of the time and that a certain amount of negative and positive emotions are necessary in organisations. It wouldn’t be ideal for employees working in a funeral business to be overly positive when dealing with grieving customers. Likewise, the article quotes that misaligned emotional culture can lead to negative results, even dangerous ones, such as Banks with no fear can become reckless in their actions and Care Homes, not showing empathy, can become neglecting of its clients.

Ok, if you accept that it is good to have a nurtured emotional culture, where do you START?

Social psychologist Phil Shaver states that some 135 emotions can be recognised, however “…understanding the most basic ones – joy, love, anger, fear, sadness—is a good place to start for any leader trying to manage an emotional culture.”
Many organisations look to introduce the emotion of fun into their work environment, as a code of conduct and standard practise, by so doing introduce an expected norm which in-turn enforces the expectation that the emotional culture is positive.

This might be done through structured activities such as employee engagement programs and break out areas where games and a pool table are provided. This active move towards engaging a person’s personal sense of fun enables them to engage with emotion in the normal course of business. So, creating the right environment to reinforce your desired emotion is important.

It is also necessary to Expect, by expecting employees to work in a certain way and being explicit about it, you create a sense of acceptance. Employees coming to work naturally get in the frame of mind ‘Expected,’ arriving ready to perform with the correct attitude required by both the customers and colleagues: Take the childminder, who is having a bad day, this is clearly not acceptable from the parent’s perspective. Why should their children get the brunt of the childminders bad mood?

An organisation with a positive fun emotional culture will not allow this situation to occur. His or her colleagues will look to aid the employee to a more positive outlook. If this isn’t possible then perhaps they might give the employee supportive counselling and direction. Ultimately, after all avenues have been exhausted, the employee cannot or chooses not to conform to the requirement then they should be persuaded to leave the organisation; sounds harsh? No not really, if you are trying to build an emotional culture which provides a positive environment for all, one employee’s attitude cannot be allowed to negatively disrupt that of the majority.

Introducing an Emotional Culture:

Harvard Business Review states that ‘To cultivate a particular emotional culture, you’ll need to get people to feel the emotions valued by the organization or team—or at least to behave as if they do. Here are three effective methods:

  1. Harness what people already feel.
    Take action to build the desired emotional culture, with appreciation of those emotions already present. Understand those emotions which don’t fit, but don’t accept them.
  2. Model the emotions you want to cultivate
    Create a culture of mimicry. People mimic emotions both good and bad; consciously create an environment that replicates your desired emotional culture.
  3. Get people to fake it till they feel it.
    Create a culture of expectation, people have the ability to conform to the norms, encourage those to do so and it will become natural.

Engagement at ALL levels:

The Harvard Business Review article also states that emotional culture is shaped by how all employees—from the highest echelons to the front lines—comport themselves day in and day out. But it’s up to senior leaders to establish which emotions will help the organization thrive, model those emotions, and reward others for doing the same. Companies in which they do this have a lot to gain.

So, is it worth asking Anne-Marie if she is ok?

Well I suppose it depends on what type of culture you want to nurture? There is a business case for having a positive cognitive and emotional culture; one which will return its investment in increased organisational performance, employee retention etc.

But (with a capital ‘B’) it won’t be easy to implement, it is difficult enough creating a cognitive culture and getting it to work, perhaps an emotional culture might be a step too far for some (or many) organisations. But, in my opinion, it is one which is worthwhile. As the old saying goes, if a job is worth doing, then it is worth doing well.

If you would like to find out more, then I would strongly recommend that you give the Harvard Business Review article: Manager your emotional culture a read (link below). It is well worthwhile.

*All comments are based on my personal experiences and given freely. That said, you need to make your own choices. I can’t and won’t accept liability for you employing any recommendations. Business is all about risk. It’s your choice.

Nigel stone has, over the last fifteen years, started, led, consulted and nurtured both UK and European businesses to achieve quite outstanding results. please feel free to drop me an email at

Articles quoted in this article:


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