"Mad Men" character Don Draper is a master of compartmentalization, keeping his work, family, and personal identities strictly separate. Imagine the ‘50’s-era character in the 2014 workplace — where the dissolution of boundaries affects everything from office walls to glass ceilings. The old dog would have to learn some new tricks.
When it comes emotions in the workplace, however, we’re all a little Draper-esque, suggests Anne Kreamer, author of “It’s Always Personal: Emotions in the Workplace.” Thanks to smartphones, flex hours, and instant messaging, employees’ work and home lives are increasingly intertwined. Still, we have an outdated notion that the ideal office is a feelings-free zone.
“We all work everywhere all the time, so there’s no longer that kind of 'Mad Men' fiction that you’re going to put on your tie and pick up your briefcase and walk out your door to go do your analytical, strategic work — then come home and suddenly you’re a human being again. That just doesn’t exist,” she says. “So the greater you can be consistent in your behavior, in all spheres of your life, the better.”
How can employees, managers, and HR pros adopt a 21st century attitude towards emotions? Here are a few lessons we learned from our chat with Kreamer:
Hire for Cultural Fit First
Kreamer's research shows that bottling up emotions and pretending to be something you aren't leads to unhappiness at work. If a candidate doesn’t have the right personality for a given job function, pay close attention to that red flag. A dramatic, emotive, creative type will always suffer in a staid, professional environment, for example. Someone more cautious and process-oriented might exist in perpetual panic at a start-up.
“There’s a term of art in the science of emotion called ‘emotion labor’ and it’s the difference between how you act when you’re at your most natural and relaxed and the degree of effort required to act differently in different circumstances,” Kreamer explains. “And so if that gap is enormous — if the emotional labor quotient is really high — you’re going to be miserable in your job.”
Embrace an "Emotions Happen" Attitude
Onboarding documents tend to hit new employees over the head with information, but they don't give recent hires any strategies for handling tricky emotional terrain on the job. That's a big miss according to Kreamer, who says the HR world has the opportunity to give employees critical and life-long skills for handling their emotions.
Her advice: "If you’re trying to cultivate a company where you want loyalty and you want people to feel job satisfaction and say positive things about your company, then say so in your introductory packet, 'Stuff happens. Here’s how we suggest you handle it if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Here’s what happens if you burst into tears in your boss’ office. Here’s what you should do if you see somebody else cry.'"
Understand the Hard-wiring Behind Employee Emotions
Women produce six times more prolactin (the hormone that triggers tears) than men, Kreamer says. And when they're under stress, women produce oxytocin (the "tend and befriend" hormone), while men produce testosterone (which triggers aggression). Helping employees understand the physiology of their emotions, as well as how to cope with those natural responses, can go a long way.
And what should people do when they feel tears coming on? "The minute you physically move, you’ve actually changed your brain chemistry in a way and you’ve short-circuited that physiological cascade of emotions," Kreamer says. "So by the time you’re back with your glass of water, you will have had time to compose yourself."
Photo: AMC TV