The Emotional Revolution at Work

jonasaltman
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- 5 min read

In our always-on, instantly gratifying, perpetually productive, and consumptive culture — there has been little room to reflect on our feelings. That is until we were forced to stop. Our thoughts and emotions won’t be kept under the hood any longer. The cultural lexicon is transforming right before our eyes as we let go of what was, and welcome what can be.

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A Better Way of Work

The pandemic has provided us room for reflection. There’s more time for self-inquiry, sensitivity towards colleagues, and scrutiny of our systems. We’ve been presented with an invitation to propel ourselves towards an exciting future.

While some have adjusted better as they move between grooming, zooming, and home-schooling, others have struggled — quietly grieving an old way of working where only the professional self was permitted into the ‘office’.

The ‘place’ and the ways in which we work are ever so surely becoming more human and the opportunity to have one’s values align with their company is no longer a pipe dream. At long last, the soul is returning to the organization.

Climbing to the Top

Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard lives and breathes better ways of working. His pioneering organization is the blueprint for business as unusual. For nearly half a century, Patagonia has been in the ‘Business of Saving Our Home Planet.’

In 2018 alone, Patagonia repaired over 100,000 garments. Their 1% for the Planet initiative has raised over 200 million dollars for nonprofit environmental groups, and the company has doubled down on regenerative farming. Most extraordinary is for over forty years the company has had paid leave and on-site family care. Chouinard balances freedom and responsibility so employees can express themselves freely and the organization can grow better, not bigger.

Other well-known companies like Virgin, IDEO, Squarespace, and Spotify and lesser-known ones you’ll find championed by the Rebels like Buurtzorg, Semco, W.L. Gore, and Enspiral -- provide places to work which are emotionally and spiritually nourishing.

Emotionally Fit Leaders

It’s been five years since Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments, decided to set a base salary of $70,000 for everyone including himself. The company is thriving but most interestingly is how staff are having way more babies.

Speaking of babies, when Megan Messenger had her second child she and co-founder at e-commerce marketplace Next Jump, made a bold decision. They turned their company into a deliberately developmental organization (DDO). In essence, a DDO is an incubator for personal and professional development--fostering a learning environment that elevates you to be a badass leader.

And when Hamdi Ulukaya strolls into work one day and instantly makes all of his employees, shareholders — any anxiety of not being able to pay one’s bills dissipates.

Bosses like these lead from the heart and not hurt and set the human spirit free at work. This style of leadership which embodies the feminine spirit is honest, expressive, and emotional. And the proof is in the pudding when it comes to the benefits of this way of showing up for teams: resentment, frustration, infighting, backlashing, failing mental health, and physical ailments so prevalent in ego-laden workplaces are mitigated or avoided altogether.

Worker wellbeing improves under this style of leadership but so too does business performance. Workers who are more committed, motivated, and productive help the company makes more money. Price’s company has doubled in size in the past five years and the value of payments has jumped from $3.8bn a year to $10.2bn. Messenger has seen revenue spike significantly at Next Jump exceeding $2bn in 2016. And Ulukaya now leads America’s sweetheart brand at the largest yogurt manufacturing plant in the world.

Practicing What You Preach

The problem is that, ‘We see these mission statements everywhere, mantras that are designed to inspire belonging and create unwavering loyalty to the company, but the biggest challenge, particularly in big business, is actually practicing what you preach,’ declares Edward Vince a Creative Director at Airbnb.

Cultures are nuanced and made up of the energy people bring and the norms they set. And strategies that make sense for one company may not necessarily work for another. Bold leaders that want to help upgrade the personal operating systems of their people can start by asking and truthfully answering these questions:

  • Can our teams galvanize around an authentic, clear, and compelling purpose?
  • What does our company culture say about us as a destination to work?
  • Do we positively treat our people like adults?
  • How do we cultivate an inclusive culture that treats people right?
  • Can remote work or a shorter work week enable people to advance our mission and do their best work?
  • Do we strive to demonstrate respect and fairness right across the board?

By answering these questions honestly, leaders should see that closing the office as a cost-saving measure at the expense of a worker’s mental health might be a bad idea. They might recognize that diversity and inclusivity are actually good for business. And they might come to see that if the values they install aren’t being lived every day — employees will jump ship.

A Different Hymn

When workers have to bury their emotions and leave parts of themselves at home it affects not only morale but performance. People crave autonomy, variety, personalization, fulfillment, connection, validation, and challenge at work. It may be a lot to ask, but the effort that conscious leaders make to lay fertile ground-- can go the distance. When workers can easily learn, share, and create — they’re motivated to make their best contribution.

Whether at the office or at the kitchen table, people yearn for the freedom to be themselves wherever they happen to be working. And as more and more companies clue up to this reality, rest assured they’ll start singing from a different prayer book.

This is a guest blog by Jonas Altman. He is the founder of design practice Social Fabric and an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia. Altman is passionate about new models of organizing and is the author of SHAPERS: Reinvent the Way You Work and Change the Future. More info on his new book here.

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Replies (5)

Koos de Heer

Koos de Heer

I honestly don't get this part:
"While some have adjusted better as they move between grooming, zooming, and home-schooling, others have struggled — quietly grieving an old way of working where only the professional self was permitted into the ‘office’.

The ‘place’ and the ways in which we work are ever so surely becoming more human and the opportunity to have one’s values align with their company is no longer a pipe dream. At long last, the soul is returning to the organization."

Are you really saying here that before, only the professional self was admitted into the office, and since Covid-19 came along, the office is becoming more personal and more emotional? I wish it were! Surely there is for some people more time to reflect and that is great. But for many people, work has been reduced to online meetings that are only functional and business-focused and much less about personal connection than before. If anything, Covid-19 has made business LESS personal than before. Or am I missing something here?

| | 9 | Flag
Ted

Ted


I wonder if one of the things that stops businesses progressing culturally is the fact that not everyone is free, or comfortable, to bring their real self to work. Some need a veil of 'professionalism' to be comfortable in themselves in a work setting. Some businesses may even encourage it with ritualistic behaviour - ways that people should speak (be 'professional') what people should wear ('wear professional clothes'), what hours should be adhered to. I think now those people may well be struggling without those frameworks, hence the yearning for what once was. Those people that struggled with the confines of those behaviours, are now released to be themselves. If they are themselves, they are free to bring their whole self to work and engage more fully with values, as their not having to be another pretend self.

We are missing the physical element that a traditional workplace would offer. However, if we look longer term I wonder if we'll manage to find a happy balance - perhaps we can maintain that personal contact after the pandemic by repurposing our office spaces to be collaborative spaces that you visit once or twice a week? Is this now an opportunity to challenge some mindsets that still cling to the 18th century way of working? :)

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jonasaltman

jonasaltman

I honestly don't get this part:
"While some have adjusted better as they move between grooming, zooming, and home-schooling, others have struggled — quietly grieving an old way of working where only the professional self was permitted into the ‘office’.

The ‘place’ and the ways in which we work are ever so surely becoming more human and the opportunity to have one’s values align with their company is no longer a pipe dream. At long last, the soul is returning to the organization."

Are you really saying here that before, only the professional self was admitted into the office, and since Covid-19 came along, the office is becoming more personal and more emotional? I wish it were! Surely there is for some people more time to reflect and that is great. But for many people, work has been reduced to online meetings that are only functional and business-focused and much less about personal connection than before. If anything, Covid-19 has made business LESS personal than before. Or am I missing something here?

Koos de Heer

I honestly don't get this part:
"While some have adjusted better as they move between grooming, zooming, and home-schooling, others have struggled — quietly grieving an old way of working where only the professional self was permitted into the ‘office’.

The ‘place’ and the ways in which we work are ever so surely becoming more human and the opportunity to have one’s values align with their company is no longer a pipe dream. At long last, the soul is returning to the organization."

Are you really saying here that before, only the professional self was admitted into the office, and since Covid-19 came along, the office is becoming more personal and more emotional? I wish it were! Surely there is for some people more time to reflect and that is great. But for many people, work has been reduced to online meetings that are only functional and business-focused and much less about personal connection than before. If anything, Covid-19 has made business LESS personal than before. Or am I missing something here?

Koos de Heer
Koos de Heer.

***
Excellent point. I think perhaps it could be helpful to dip into the difference I intended between personal and human. And I'll speak specifically from a North-American point of view here as imagine there is a difference b/w Europe.

For some, it may very well be less personal - less connection, less (or no) office banter, less feeling of belonging. Yet when I say human I am speaking to many of the implicit things that have taken place for many in organizations that once championed the 'professional mask' and subsequent ways of work.

Things like control - prior to the pandemic fixed technology (desk phone and a desktop tied to a workstation), exceeded mobile technology (a cell phone and a laptop) by 2 to 1. For many working from home has shifted the energy from compliance to commitment. For others, it could be the reverse.

Things like cats and kids - once mentioned in passing to a colleague or not at all - is impossible to ignore as a staple background in a Zoom meeting. Again, has its benefits and drawbacks

While the endless online meetings might be a big drag and have a professional tinge - I think it has made it very acute for some in my world whether the company they are at is one in which they wish to stay.
Employees are witnessing leadership navigate with integrity, agility, and strength in some instances. And with secrecy, awkwardness, and fear in other cases. The result is that value alignment or discord becomes much more clear. If a healthy 'workplace' is one where human values can be lived, and the pandemic is shining a light on the cracks, then I believe this is an opportunity to move in the right direction - towards the light.

Thank you for your comment -very thought-provoking and more food for thought. I really appreciate it!

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jonasaltman

jonasaltman

Ted, I definitely like this thinking and echo what you say and propose.
Oversharing can backfire, and we can be vulnerable without some level of courage (and often I find, with time).

If you haven't the book NO HARD FEELINGS is so great in this regard talking about the balance, selective vulnerability, and much more when it comes to the dance b/w a 'professional' self and any other self you may adopt :)

| | 0 | Flag
Ophelia Lyo

Ophelia Lyo

Hi Jonas,

Very interesting article and I agree with you 100%.

There is only one small thing that bothers me, it's when you say " This style of leadership which embodies the feminine spirit is honest, expressive, and emotional." You make it sound like there is something more in the essence itself of women to be like that.

But it's not true. Both men and women, as human beings, are emotional and are born with the whole range of emotions. But societies attribute some emotions to women and some other to men. And we learn to repress what isn't allowed in our gender, hurting our self doing that in the process. A good documentary showing what it does to men is "The mask you live in".

I hope we'll slowly move into a world where we stop shaming women for being angry for instance (calling them hysterical) and men for being sad (calling them weak).

| | 3 | Flag
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