Dealing With Emotions In The Modern Workplace

The Masks We Wear

Wednesdays are usually pretty nondescript: wake up, work-out, make coffee, go to work, spend eight hours in your open office on your yoga ball, snack on guacamole that the IT guy made, teach yoga on the patio, make a s’more in the fire pit, go home. (Okay, I admit, we have an awesome office culture.)

But Wednesday, November 9, 2016 was anything but ordinary at work. The entire election cycle had been emotional for people, but the aftermath of the presidential election had heightened emotions in a way that many hadn’t anticipated. While our employees are diverse and certainly don’t all espouse the same political beliefs, I don’t want to generalize — but I’ll say that you don’t often see this kind of emotion taken publicly to the office. I manage internal marketing and workplace culture at our company, and so this posed a big challenge for me, particularly because I was a vocal supporter of the candidate who lost. When something of massive importance has happened in one or two employees’ lives and they can’t help but carry that emotion with them to work, that’s one thing. It’s another thing entirely when it’s everyone.

But in our world of always-on news and a cloud of social media information that heightens the intensity and impact of world events like nothing else, this kind of collective emotion is something that comes around more often than every four years. From the relatively minute (an unexpected result of a sports championship) to the globally significant (a natural disaster), managing reactions of this nature has become a necessity for 21st-century companies. Here are a few ways that as a company we have helped to manage, rather than mask, these reactions:

  1. Understand that it’s okay to face these emotions at work. We hear all the time how the millennial-driven workplace is somehow different from those in the past, but really, it’s not even close…because we have unlimited vacation policies and kegerators in the office. Millennials more than any other group in history are desperately seeking meaning and connection, especially in their work, in large part because they no longer see the necessary barrier between a personality at work and one at home — you can learn all about your co-workers’ real lives through their Instagram accounts, after all. The day after the election, I posted a sign on my desk that said “free hugs,” which some people might feel is dramatic and overreaching beyond workplace propriety, but in my Los Angeles office where many of us were shocked and in various stages of the grief cycle, the hugs were appreciated. We had connected with one another.
  2. Giving back can make people feel more empowered — make it a core part of your company culture. From a purely practical standpoint, companies that offer opportunities to give back to the community experience better overall employee job satisfaction. But it’s also an important way to make employees feel valued and empowered in ways that go far beyond their day jobs. On November 9, to be frank, I personally felt that the country was going to hell in an orange wig, and that made me dread the fact that Wednesdays are our company’s designated day to volunteer to work with kids at a local elementary school through a program called Read to a Child. I was so crabby that I was hoping the kids wouldn’t show up. But then they did show up, and I was reminded that — as they say — the children are our future. The fact that these kids were excited to see us and read a few picture books with us helped me not just put things into perspective, but also to feel that I’d concretely done something to make a difference.
  3. Offer a wide variety of ways — both big and small — for employees to contribute to the community. Sometimes it’s tempting to want to use your company’s philanthropy initiatives in a manner that’s very targeted and to hold a few large-scale volunteer days or special fundraisers that align with a couple of core company values. This aligns their businesses with well-publicized events and strategically significant organizations to facilitate goodwill and warm-fuzzies among their staff. But employees in a 21st-century-connected workplace would benefit more from seeing community involvement and social responsibility as something woven into the company’s everyday culture — even if this means fewer big splashes. With a diverse, globalized, and empathetic workforce, plus more causes to get involved with than ever before, there is no shortage of opportunities to give back.

We focus on the small things as much as we can. After last year’s devastating attacks on Paris, we bought breakfast on the company’s culture budget and charged per plate, with proceeds going to the French Red Cross. After the largest mass-shooting in American history at Pulse nightclub over the summer, we did the same thing but with donuts and coffee and donated the proceeds to the GoFundMe campaign set up by Equality Florida to benefit the victims’ families. We’ve collected school supplies for homeless children, helped set up an animal adoption fair, donated presents to families at the holidays. When we have too much food from a team lunch, I call a homeless shelter in the area, and they are always grateful to receive a meal for their residents. My personal favorite? The company will pay for your gym membership, provided that you meet a minimum number of visits per month. If you don’t make the minimum number of trips to the gym, I kick you off the roster, no warning — and the only way to get back on is to provide me proof of a $50 donation to charity. Our offices across the country were closed for Election Day to guarantee employees the time needed to wait in long poll lines and show that we respect their identities as citizens, not just employees. There are countless ways to give back, and your employees’ collective interests can help you decide where to put your efforts. In the busy world of tech, compassion and activism could easily take a backseat to the worlds we’re inventing, but connecting with our own world on a daily basis makes us appreciate the work more.

What will the next 208 Wednesdays bring? I’m sure I don’t know. But by fostering workplace cultures that break free from the dated belief of leaving emotion at the door and instead building a culture that focuses on community engagement at work as a lifestyle and a set of values, I’m sure our Wednesdays (and every other day) will continue to be great. Again. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)