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Lisa Earle McLeod: Cherish humanity in the workplace

Professionalism often translates to lack of emotion. On the surface, it might not seem like being a professional would require you to stuff your emotions. Yet that’s exactly what many work cultures unconsciously promote.

The crisis of disengaged employees (more than 55 percent of people) reveals that many people feel dead inside at work. There are three reasons that organizations and leaders often (unintentionally) strip humanity from the workplace:

• Overemphasis on systems and processes – A good business requires buttoned-up systems and processes, but overemphasizing takes the humanity out of the equation. For example, employees are told to be friendly to customers, yet they’re evaluated on how quickly they can complete the transaction. Or worse, in some retail establishments, employees who serve customers are pushed by the managers to constantly keep the shelves stocked. Employees adopt a heads-down, just-get-it-done mindset that erodes customer connection.

A better approach is to intentionally seed your processes with emotional language. For example, the Container Store is known for having a “Yummy Culture” they call “out and discuss it.” One of the Container Store’s 7 Foundational Principles is “Air of Excitement.”

Self-protection from future loss – Managers are told to care about employees. But they’re also told to keep their conversations professional and not ask about people’s personal lives. My husband, a former finance executive, says that part of the reason that managers don’t get involved with their people is self-protection: “In today’s world, you’re reluctant to develop a personal relationship, because you might have to fire that person next week.” It’s hard for your employees to believe that you care if you haven’t taken the time to get to know them.

The reality is, we’re human, and humans crave connection. Part of having authentic connection means the risk of loss if it fails. Melissa Reiff, president of the Container Store says, “It’s hard work to make someone feel safe, secure, and warm, but that’s your job as a leader.”

Belief that logic prevents mistakes – People like to believe that all of their decisions are logical. Leaders are told to look at the facts and stay objective. One reason that leaders are reluctant to let emotion creep into their offices is that they’ve been told that it will make them weak, that their judgment will be clouded and that emotion may keep them from making the best decision.

The reality is that emotion is part of every human endeavor, especially decision-making. Logic makes you think. But emotions make you act.

Trying to pretend that you can strip emotion out of decisions doesn’t work. In fact, it erodes your decision-making skills because you have the illusion that you’re operating on facts alone, which if you’re human is never the case. Your emotions are still present, but your logical brain is pretending that it’s acting alone.

A better approach is to acknowledge your emotions, and consider them valid criteria. For example, if one market appears more lucrative but you’re more excited about a less lucrative market, your enthusiasm should weigh as a factor. You may be better off pointing your team toward something you can get excited about, because you’ll be more creative, and better able to sustain your energy for that initiative.

We take the full extent of our humanity wherever we go. Trying to tamp it down or stuff it at work doesn’t make you professional. It just makes you boring, and it turns work into a grind.

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