Is It OK To Be Emotional In The Workplace?

I guess the first thing to consider is what do we mean by 'emotional' and to what level can we express them. Stomping to the corner of the office and sobbing uncontrollably - possibly not. Or the recent case of the man in Liverpool who drove a digger into a newly-built hotel reception, causing extensive damage and possible harm to others - no. But we are human and certain elements of our psyche do not switch off just because we are at work. In fact, the workplace may emphasise the emotions we desperately try to hide.

In 1997, Professor Cynthia Fisher conducted research into the role of emotions at work and found that the most common emotions in the workplace are:

Frustration/ irritation
Worry/ nervousness
Anger/ aggravation
Dislike
Disappointment/ unhappiness

Alexithymia

Alexithymia is a subclinical phenomenon involving a lack of emotional awareness or, more specifically, difficulty in identifying and describing feelings and in distinguishing feelings from the bodily sensations of emotional arousal
— (Nemiah et al., 1976).

We may call these negative emotions or lower vibrating emotions if you prefer. Rather than ignoring these feelings when they appear, we can use them as a marker to assess our health and well-being, and whether we are able deal with these emotions. Let’s not forget, having an emotion, even an emotion perceived as negative, is better than no emotion at all. When we are able to identify in ourselves anger or dislike, for example, we can begin to develop the resources and strategies to cope with these emotions. The inability to display or identity emotions may signify more severe issues such as depression, abuse or conditions such as alexithymia.

In the workplace, feelings of worry or frustration may provide a team the opportunity to reassess their working practices and boost staff morale. Prolonged negative emotions, without resolution, may also give us a much needed push to move on, if possible, or seek professional support. Getting in touch with our own emotions may enable us to redirect those ‘negative’ emotions into creativity or productivity. It may also provide us with a greater sense of empathy - improving our relationships with colleagues and clients.

Emotions in the workplace are not a bad thing, particularly if the organisational structure provides an environment where differences in behaviour is celebrated and the freedom to discuss issues or mistakes is encouraged. For some, this may seem unnecessary or time-consuming but ignoring your employees’ signs of emotional distress may prove to be costly.

Fisher, C (1997) Emotions at Work: What Do People Feel and How Should we Measure it?" School of Business Discussion Paper; No. 63,
Nemiah, J.C., Freyberger, H., & Sifneos, P.E. (1976). Alexithymia: A view of thepsychosomatic process. In O. W. Hill (Ed.), Modern Trends in Psychosomatic Medicine, vol. 3, p.430-439.