Businesses can suffer if workers' emotions are ignored
by Michael Kinsman
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Fugate wishes that businesses did a better job of detecting the emotions of workers and how they contribute to the work environment.
"Historically, showing emotions at work has been widely viewed as impractical and inappropriate," Fugate says. "There is very little room for them in the type of traditional command-and-control management style."
Yet in a study of how 141 employees in an unidentified public services organization dealt with major organizational change, Fugate and his co-authors, Arizona State University professor Angelo J. Kinicki and graduate student Spencer Harrison, found that businesses can suffer if they don't deal with employees' emotional health.
"If employees have emotional reactions and their employers don't pay attention to those reactions, they can withdraw," Fugate says. "They are more likely to take sick days, and if their frustration continues to grow they will actually leave their jobs."
He says that should be a wake-up call for companies. Poor morale and heavy turnover can be costly financial burdens for any company.
"There is a big problem with valuable people leaving a firm," Fugate says. "It is a significantly under-measured cost to the organization."
Fugate is concerned that a large percentage of companies cling to management foundations laid in the Industrial Revolution that had managers giving orders and workers following them. Work has evolved since then, yet many companies have yet to fully shed traditional management roles.
Fugate sees opportunities for managers to build better relationships with workers by watching how they react to organizational change or stress. An employee concerned about the future might not be as productive as the employee who understands why change is occurring and how it will effect him.
"Paying attention to how workers react is an important tool for any manager," he says.
Fugate recalled that as a young worker in the health care industry he saw how workers involved in the same merger or organizational change had dramatically different emotional reactions to it. "That told me that you have consider emotions in the workplace," he says.
"Over the past 10 or 15 years, I think we've seen a lot of progress in the psychology movement, with companies looking at positive emotions and trying to build on them," he says. "But there still are too many managers who think emotions don't belong on the job."
He urges all employers to monitor employee emotions during stressful times, taking that opportunity to explain opportunities and benefits of change so workers will feel more comfortable about the future.
But while some businesses aren't interested in the effects of negative emotions in their work forces, they are well-attuned to the benefits of good emotions, Fugate says.
"Look at a clerk at Wal-Mart," he says. "They are expected to smile and be pleasant to customers, no matter how they feel. When emotions help companies, they are quick to accept them."
Employers who don't change on their own and learn to deal with emotions in the workplace will be forced to in the future.
"Generation X and, even more, Generation Y workers are driving that," Fugate says. "They are going to make employers do that as part of their involvement in the work force."
Leticia Gonzalez, a 23-year-old who has been working since age 16, is evidence of that.
"If I have to change my personality or attitude to fit in with my boss' criteria, I'll just quit," says Gonzalez, who has a bachelor's in cinematography from Brooks Institute of Photography and works at a downtown San Diego restaurant.
During the year she worked in the Hollywood film industry as a grip she learned that she had little tolerance for fitting into defined behavior.
"I don't want to wake up in the morning and dread going to work. The first time I feel that I can't be myself in my job, I'm gone," she says. "Employers need to understand that."
Employers who hang on to old-school management traditions that require employees to have a stiff upper lip when they are under stress will simply find themselves increasingly handicapped in the years ahead, Fugate says.