Improving Your Emotional Culture
Organizational culture is usually perceived as the cognitive or intellectual ethos of a group, based on the shared values and assumptions that guide the group’s efforts. However, each organization also has an underlying emotional culture which can have a lasting effect on workforce satisfaction and productivity.
Think of cognitive culture as the thinking side of group behavior, while emotional culture is the feeling side. Suppressing emotional culture is a common mistake for hard-charging leaders who only see business as a cold, analytical endeavor. They overlook the importance of not just embracing emotions in the workplace, but actively shaping them to help motivate and inspire their employees.
Considerable research has shown that emotional culture can have a direct influence on workforce collaboration and performance, affecting business outcomes including employee morale, absenteeism and even overall financial results.
One of the most important influencers of emotional culture is the notion of “companionate love
” that co-workers feel for each other, based on their sense of mutual caring and compassion. People who experience companionate love for their teams reported greater job fulfillment, commitment and accountability, according to a comprehensive survey
of 3,200 employees across seven industries by business scholars Sigal Barsade and Olivia A. O’Neill. Workplaces that foster ample companionate love have even been shown to improve gross profit margins.
A strong emotional culture can only be developed through everyday interactions, expressions and gestures, not by giving pep talks or making elaborate pronouncements. When a manager regularly appears gruff or inapproachable, that attitude tends to rub off on others, souring the overall emotional culture. Conversely, leaders who often show humor and gratitude toward others can help shape a more positive culture.
Another way to improve the emotional culture involves the physical workplace setting. Offices that display funny signs or corny photos convey a sense of cheerfulness, while walls lined with lists of office rules or regulations signal a culture of fear and trepidation.
That sense of fear can be compounded by leaders who regularly put their employees on the defensive by calling them out for making small mistakes or missing deadlines. The resulting sense of anxiety can deaden a group’s emotional culture, reducing job satisfaction and lowering employee retention.
On the other hand, studies of emotional contagion have shown that positive feelings can be transferred through mimicked behaviors. For instance, a boss who starts every day with a big smile and an upbeat greeting of “Good morning” can put a smile on the faces of others, improving their moods and setting a constructive tone for the entire workday.
Here’s the thing about instilling a positive emotional culture – even when people first conform to the group norms just to be compliant with their peers, they tend to internalize the group culture over time until they start demonstrating the desired behaviors.
The ways that people act reinforce their feelings, and the ways that people feel reinforce their actions. Negative emotions such as anger and sadness will eventually diminish worker performance and group cohesion, while positive emotions will lead to greater job effectiveness, better product quality, and improved customer service. That’s why it’s so important for leaders to create a favorable emotional culture by setting a cheerful example and encouraging their followers to support one another through both the good times and the bad.