When talking about the “culture” of a workplace, there is a heavy focus on an organization’s intellectual attitudes, values, goals, behaviors, and its employees. Discussion is around how these can be positive (or negative) and how they relate to company goals of productivity, efficiency, and staff retention.
However, despite the importance of all these factors, the conversation around good company culture still excludes a major factor – feelings.
It’s no surprise, really, that the corporate world has long had a “feelings at the door” policy, but the tides are slowly turning as organizations increasingly realize that emotional intelligence in the workplace is just as vital to success as any other aspect of their internal culture.
When the battle for talent acquisition and retention is so fierce, ignoring how employees feel at their jobs is a fast path to losing the people most important to your workplace. What’s more, stifling the emotional aspect of people at work only dulls creativity and innovation, not to mention a big part of what it is to be human.
In this article, we will explore emotional culture in the workplace by asking what it is, why it is important, and then running through six simple steps you can take to foster a better emotional culture in your organization or team.
What is Emotional Culture?
Emotional culture is the aspects of your overall company culture that relate to emotional norms, values, and behaviors that dictate which feelings are acceptable in the workplace, and which aren’t. This is opposed to the intellectual culture of a company (values, goals, ideas, etc.), which is what people are usually referring to when talking about company culture.
The emotional culture that an organization fosters greatly impacts the people who work there and the company as a whole – but why is this? What makes emotional culture so important? Let’s find out.
Why Is Emotional Culture Important?
Let’s start with the most important aspect – the people. Human beings are complex, with a variety of wants, needs, insecurities, and forms of expression. As a result, we all have different ways of doing things, more specifically, different ways to manage and deal with professional relationships, both in the office or with clients.
However, despite knowing this, many companies still go for the cookie-cutter, small-gray-cubicle approach. They attempt to squash employees into not having feelings, rather than accepting this as part of the work experience.
If a team has a good emotional culture, which the company fosters in an active way, then this staves off the potential harm of masking emotions and actually provides numerous benefits. First, a good emotional culture encourages people to share, since they are in a more comfortable environment. This allows for higher creativity and innovation. This includes the ability to effectively communicate and receive constructive criticism.
Why are they able to be so open in their communication, which, as we know, has so many benefits? Because with a good emotional culture, real bonds are formed. The individuals have put in the work to create real relationships with each other, which makes them trust one another and thus be able to communicate comfortably.
That doesn’t mean that there won’t ever be conflict – being hurt, angry or upset are all valid emotions – but it does mean that teams will be able to deal with this properly. It will cut through some of the passive-aggressive nonsense that crops up in offices since good emotional culture gives team members the space to deal with one another not as employees, but as people.
So, how do you improve, build or foster a good emotional culture in your organization or team? Let’s take a look at six major steps you can take today.
How to Foster Better Emotional Culture in Your Team
Before getting started, remember that these six steps are only the beginning. Every team (and individual) is different, so take this into account and base any and all changes on your unique situation. After you’ve got started, talk to your team! Isn’t that the whole point after all?
1. Lay Down Clear Communication Guidelines to Keep Everyone Comfortable
As mentioned earlier, we’re all different, with varying ideas about what is appropriate communication. So before encouraging your office to get more emotional, it’s good to establish some basic guidelines.
These are not designed to limit people’s interaction, but rather to make them comfortable communicating by outlining what is good practice. This can include, for example, how to respond to different communication types (e.g. how fast you must reply to an email) or who needs to be looped into what communications.
People are comfortable when they know what’s expected of them, so rather than worrying about whether you seem idle for responding to an email too quickly or having it play on your mind all day because you are yet to respond, you can focus on what’s important knowing there are guidelines for that.
Try to keep these guidelines simple, focusing on the most common methods of communication your company uses – nobody wants to sit through a 5 hour “How to Communicate at Your New Company” on their first day.
2. Encourage Deeper Relationships
The better the relationship between the team members, the greater the trust, and the superior the group. However, these kinds of relationships rarely develop over people’s shared love of spreadsheets – they are normally based on lives, not work.
For a better emotional culture at work, you need to encourage non-work relationships. Yes, we’re talking about team building, but no, it’s not a 90s getaway to blow off steam and make embarrassing mistakes. It is giving employees the space to get to know one another on a personal level on the clock. Yes, pay for this time, invest in your emotional culture, and reap the rewards of a strong team.
This can be especially challenging for remote teams, which are now a substantial part of the workforce. However, there are plenty of activities to help employees build stronger relationships without flying halfway around the world. For example, consider these activities while on conference calls:
- A virtual Happy Hour Trivia game, also known as a pub quiz, could be a great way to get your team chatting. Break them up into smaller groups and have them face off in a bid to win the (office-appropriate) prize as they work through categories of questions.
- Organize a team lunch. Social eating is a really important part of relationship building and can be worked into your organization’s emotional culture plan. This could range from getting employees to share a recipe that everyone cooks to offering vouchers for delivery so everyone can sit around and chat.
- Complete a murder mystery game (or any other kind of online puzzle pack). Mystery nights have been a popular pastime for decades and offer a great way for employees to bond and flex their problem-solving skills.
When considering any activity, the most important factor to keep in mind is the people – will everyone be able to take part? Will everyone be comfortable? Will everyone want to take part?
Remember that a good emotional culture in the workplace starts with good emotional intelligence in the leadership. This takes us on to our next point…
3. Be the Model for The Emotional Culture You Want
It can be hard for managers, or anyone in a leadership position, to take the lead when it comes to emotional culture improvements because it goes against what many have been taught as “good corporate etiquette” throughout their careers.
Rather than being aloof and apart from everyone, you need to show your vulnerable side. Everyone on your team already knows you’re human, so being open to them reflects a healthy environment. Accept constructive criticism and communication, and others will see that it isn’t just a rule for them.
Many managers are afraid to lose authority, not realizing that mutual respect is a far more powerful motivator when it comes to getting things done.
4. Make Useful Feedback A Core Part of Your Culture
Getting feedback about emotional issues (even work-related ones) is tough. It’s something that very few people are comfortable with and something that should never be pushed. However, giving your team the space to give, receive, and offer you emotional feedback is vital for building a better emotional culture.
It is also an outcome of better emotional culture, so it should get easier over time. However, when you’re just starting out why not try some of these techniques to get the ball rolling:
- Ask for specific, emotional feedback rather than waiting for it. Ask your team members if they feel happy, unhappy, or frustrated by something. Similarly, you must share your emotional feedback, e.g. “giving curt replies to emails makes me feel dismissed”.
- Focus on active listening – rather than thinking about what you’re going to say next, make a concerted effort to actually hear what the other person is telling you.
- Make that emotional feedback useful – don’t just listen, take steps to rectify (or continue!). If the emotional feedback is negative, then list out ways you can change this in the future. If it is positive, great! Put a reminder somewhere that you’re doing things well.
As with all aspects of this, never be too pushy and read the room! As a general rule, sitting your team down in a circle and making them tell you how they feel about your leadership will not help.
5. Include Emotion in One-on-One Meetings
As opposed to a group setting, one-on-one meetings might offer you a great place to further your emotional culture in the workplace. Talking to just one employee can give you insight into how they like to communicate, express themselves, and their comfort with you and their co-workers. Having this insight can help you work with them as well as shape the emotional culture of the team.
Arranging a regular one-on-one meeting with each team member offers a good opportunity to check how they are doing – not whether they are hitting their targets, etc., but how they are feeling. Try to avoid pointed or leading questions such as “How did X make you feel?”, but rather use open-ended questions to get some individual feedback. For example:
“Is there anything recently that you’ve been particularly happy with?”
“Is there anything recently that you’ve been particularly unhappy with?”
Questions should be open and broad enough that each team member will be able to answer in their own way.
6. Spike Encourages Multi-Level Communication
Finally, you need to equip yourself with the tools to further improve and maintain the emotional culture at your organization. Spike helps by supplying various channels to communicate effectively within (and outside of) your team, using methods that suit you and your employees.
First and foremost, Spike is built around one of the most fundamental business communication methods – email. This offers users an asynchronous method of communication, for when emotional culture needs a thorough and thoughtful approach, with time to consider what is being said. However, Spike is far more powerful than regular email, with Priority Inbox to automatically sort your mail and a Conversational approach to make messages as simple as IM chats.
Spike also offers Video Meetings, which give people the opportunity to look each other in the face and really discuss a topic. While not everything requires a call, your one-on-one meetings to build an emotional culture in your workplace certainly do, and Spike offers simple tools to get this done.
Online Notes is a platform for group relationship building, with a collaborative space where your team can add text, images, GIFs, videos, code, and more to the conversation. Add to this the ability to chat and comment, and it is a great tool to foster more open collaboration across your team.
These are just some of the tools that Spike offers that can help improve your emotional culture and company culture as a whole.
Emotional Culture – a Step in the Right Direction
A lot of what we’ve talked about may seem obvious once you’ve read it, and, well, it should be! It’s all about making the working environment a little more human-friendly – giving team members the space, tools, and confidence they need to be themselves and thrive.
Remember that it is not a one-time fix for your organization but rather an ongoing journey, so start with these six tips as your first steps and take it away from there!
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