True employee engagement requires a conversation about emotions at work. Should you draw a clear separation between the office and your personal life, or should you be a “whole person” and involved in the life of your coworkers?
Let’s start with one extreme, which comes from professional speaker Glenn Shepard. His famous “rules of work” include the following items:
3. Leave your home life at home.
10. Be low maintenance.
Those are some pretty strict edicts. But compare them with the complete opposite direction with regard to employee engagement. An article from the Child Care Information Exchange by Pauline Dave Zeece titles “Way Beyond Chicken Soup: Caring for and about Ill Employees” includes this passage:
Thus, the serious or terminal illness of a staff member presents a wealth of challenges and opportunities for an administrator. To deal effectively with employee illness, a director must ideally be both compassionate and pragmatic.
Caring administrators watch for cues from employees about how and when they can make a difference. The workplace atmosphere is
supportive of staff in good health and illness. They are realistic about what they can and cannot do in the context of their administrative role. They are willing to give of themselves without compromising their programs.
So which one is the right kind of employee engagement? Should people leave their home life at home, or should bosses bring chicken soup to people when they are sick?
The reality is much more complicated than fully engaging (or fully denying) the role of emotions at work. We don’t want to encourage people to bring their baggage from home into the office—or vice versa. But of course we are all human and it’s not possible to fully compartmentalize our lives.
Therefore, what we really want is for people to take personal responsibility for managing their emotional state. If you’re too upset to be productive at work, you should probably not try to work that day. If you want to celebrate happiness in your own life with your colleagues, you should feel free to do so in a way that does not significantly impact their ability to be productive either.
Likewise, we don’t want managers to become unduly burdened by the personal nature of relationships. You’re going to get to know your colleagues as people, and when they have emotional challenges you’re certainly going to be aware that they are happening. But as an employer or a fellow staff member, you should not be in the best position to help them. In fact, your loyalties are mixed, because you need the work to get done.
Too many people want to be completely black and white about emotions at the workplace. Happy employees are ones that can express themselves, but also those that recognize how their ability to focus on work and get things done contributes to the company and to their personal sense of accomplishment. Genuine employee engagement means that we treat people as human, but honor the system of the organization.
What’s your take on emotions at work?