For those who are regular readers of our blogs you might remember that we talked recently about the subject of happiness. It somehow seems a little inappropriate to talk about being ‘happy’ with regards to the workplace, as though it is a slightly unprofessional word. Or, that it simplifies a large problem that is too complicated to describe in one word that is rarely used in a corporate sense. We could therefore consider other words that represent some kind of happiness at work. Maybe ‘employee engagement’, ‘satisfaction’ or we could refer to those who have successfully managed their emotional intelligence as achieving some form of happiness. Although telling someone ‘Don’t worry, may be emotionally intelligent’ it isn’t as catchy as the famous tune. There is however some merit because ‘optimism’ is a recognised measure when considering how emotionally intelligent someone is. Alternatively, we might think that someone who is happy at work , is someone who is not frazzled or having an amygdala hijack!
It is this important that we focus on ensuring people maintain some kind of contentment at work, for many reasons. Of course it depends how we categorise happiness or contentment and for the purposes of this article it might be described as an environment that is not threatening, but safe, where relationships are productive and based on trust.
This is a little like the adage of why aging is ‘better than the alternative’. The same is true with this subject, it is important we focus on creating the right environment because the alternative is a lot worse. The alternative means an environment where stress is pervasive, our ability to make rational decisions is hampered, our health can be affected, we have a need to resort to fight or flight and our ability to think calmly is hindered. Fundamentally it means that our working environment will then impede the workings of the brain and prevent flow state working making optimal performance impossible. This then massively impacts on the long term performance of the organisation.
If we are to have clarity of mind, even in the frantic working environment most of us find ourselves in, it is vital that we create space for our minds, to allow them to function naturally, without being forced to do anything. Our minds need a rest approximately every 90 minutes yet most people are not aware of the signals their minds send out and continue working on in oblivion. Recent findings in neuroscience show that we are at our most creative when our minds are at rest. Immediately before we have an “insight” moment (a burst of Gamma waves) and our great idea emerges, brain scans show that the mind is in a restful state (Alpha waves). It is important to maintain clarity of mind and the ability to think clearly not only for creativity but also to have the capability to learn, to listen wholeheartedly, take information in and make great decisions. Learning to create space for our minds and working with the natural flow helps us to have greater control over our emotions and therefore reducing the likelihood of an ‘amygdala hijack’ which robs us of the ability to have clarity of mind as we go into panic mode, on high alert, and our emotional response takes over our rational thinking. When our emotional and psychological responses are negatively affected, we become distressed and will not act in our ‘best self’ so our relationships can be damaged.
Relationships are key for an organisation to be able to successfully do business and function. Today’s organisations face significant change, significant pressure on both human and financial resources, restructure and even sometimes purpose. All these challenges require that people buy in to the communication, that organisations ‘take people with them’ and if the relationships break down and people start not being able to hear, not wanting to be part of the ‘organisational relationship’ due to a pressure ridden environment, this can have far reaching detrimental effects.
As we know, the challenges themselves will not cease so the only thing we can do is manage our response. The emotional intelligence of the organisation needs to improve. The senior managers need to understood if and how they have been emotionally affected, is the pressure getting to them, how is this manifesting in their communication ‘down’ the organisation? There needs to be increased ‘other awareness’ to see, feel and hear how other people are being affected. Do they still feel they are in the safe environment? Are they being put in a position that is not stressful that enables listening and to continue and therefore dialogue?
In this sense leaders are forced to consider the ‘how’ much more than just the ‘what’. Attention needs to be given to how leaders communicate, what forums are made available to let people have their voice, how to create environment where feelings are not just considered but discussed. In a solution-focussed way of course so it is not just an opportunity to download, which is why coaching is so important as asking open questions gives permission to talk about feelings but also encourages responsibility and accountability.
Maybe we could have conversations that meaningfully ask the question ‘How are you feeling?’ to an individual or a group, but wait and listen to the response and then discuss together how everyone can move forward, ‘What can we do together to overcome these challenges we face?’ Open dialogue, permission to speak without hierarchal awareness, honest conversations are useful, necessary and essential. Otherwise we are asking people to do things that their brains are not equipped to deal with, if we work with their brain, we will be working with the people, not against them. In that way the organisation stands the best chance possible of being emotionally intelligent, both organisation and employee being ‘happy’ and, a much better chance of achieving long term strategic objectives.