Many managers believe that emotions have no place in business. As a practicing manager, and a scientist, I was always taught that emotions are bad and that they play havoc with our decisions. That is, we should be making logical decisions based on facts and facts alone. The reality of the workplace makes this something that is impossible to achieve. Since ignoring our emotions does not work, the problem needs to be considered as how do we make our emotions and the emotions of others work for us in business. We have all heard that people do better when they are happy, so then we should be striving to create happy work places. But how do we do that.
A recent commercial from Values.com shows a young boy with a bat and a bucket of baseballs, he states that he is the best hitter in the world, he tosses a ball into the air, swings and misses, he repeats his mantra a second and third time, yet he misses each time. He then looks down at the ground for a second, looks back up and says that he is the greatest pitcher in the world. This illustrates what we typically call optimism or one of the positive emotions. In this commercial, we see a person who has taken what many would consider to be a failure and made it a victory. It is about striving to reach a goal and persevering in the face of adversity. In my research, I looked at how self-efficacy affects social responsibility and the effect of positive and negative emotions on that effect. When I measured self-efficacy, the questions that strongly contributed to my measurement were about being confident in our ability to succeed even when faced with something we had not done before. While this had an effect on social responsibility in companies, the effect was relatively small and was limited to economic and legal responsibilities. When I added positive emotions to the equation, the effect size climbed indicated that positive emotions created a much larger impact on social responsibility than did self-efficacy alone.
My measurements for positive (and negative) emotions looked at three shared items, compassion, overall mood, and vision. Vision statements are very commonplace in most companies and are often communicated or shared throughout the company, but what about the other two items, what is shared overall mood and shared compassion. Let’s take a look at shared overall positive mood (OPM).
When we measure positive mood, our questions are related to whether someone enjoys working at the company or not in terms of the company and the people, we also ask if they would prefer to work elsewhere. When we walk into a company for an interview or to meet people, we often perceive a very different culture than if it is a place where we work. Most of us, in the US at least are at work 8 hours or more per day, five days per week, 50 weeks per year, nearly a third of time is spent at work and we create relationships with the people we work with. These relationships may be positive or negative depending on the people involved and how we deal with them. When we have positive work relationships, we look forward to going to work, we know the people, we feel with them when they are hurt or happy. This sense of positivity is what we call the overall mood of the organization. It can change quickly from positive to negative because emotions are contagious and we pick up the cues at a subconscious level.
Creating a positive emotional atmosphere means that we need to allow people to have relationships and we need to build these relationships into our organization. We should foster a sense that people share not just the burden of work, but the joys of work. Recognizing when people have a positive experience, passing out compliments and learning to listen are good starting points and they are easy to do. We just need to remember that we are human, and just as we have hopes, dreams, and fears, so do the people we work with. Foster an open and communicative atmosphere being willing to stop and listen, be willing to take time to build relationships on a foundation of respect for others. These are a few steps but gradually, the positive days will begin to outnumber the negative and soon your employees will care and want to be there.
Joe Thornton is an instructor of Management at Bellarmine University, where he focuses on small business ethics and social responsibility. He has over 29 years of industry experience at various management levels in the environmental industry as a consultant, regulator, and internal resource manager. He is a registered professional geologist in Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee and is a certified professional geologist through the American Institute of Professional Geologists. He is currently finishing his doctor of management degree at Case Western Reserve University and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.