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Why the Future of Work is Emotional

Round Editorial

Organizational designers and WSJ bestsellers Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy share why feelings are inextricable from the workplace.

Emotions don’t only belong at work—they’re a big part of it. Organizational designers and The Wall Street Journal bestsellers Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy share why feelings are inextricable from the workplace.

Round’s third RoundAbout conversation brought organizational designers Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy together with Round’s Co-Founder and CEO, Ryan Fuller. Separately, Fosslien is Head of Content at Humu, and West Duffy is Head of Organizational Development at RALLY; together, they are the authors of Wall Street Journal best-seller No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work.

Fuller spoke with Fosslien and West Duffy about where feelings belong in the workplace, how they can help shape communication by leaders, and the reality that not all feelings are created equal. Here are five key takeaways from their hour-long conversation:

1. The pandemic has accelerated the relevance of expressing feelings in the workplace – mostly

Emotions Message Draw

For long as we’ve been working, both leaders and employees have been expected to check feelings at the workplace door. But as the pandemic has blown down the wall between work and life, people have become more comfortable coming forward with what’s going on in their personal and emotional lives. In many situations, employees have become more proactive in bringing up conversations about real human feelings that once wouldn’t have been welcome in the workplace even two years ago. For many, it’s almost impossible not to when your office is the corner of your living room.

The future of work is emotional, Liz and Mollie say: “The pandemic really accelerated that future—the future is now.”

2. The cadence of how and when we check in with employees is a key to transformation

Emotions contain really important data about the workforce. Many leaders use employee feedback forms and pulse surveys to take the temperature of their workforces, especially in remote-work situations. This can be good, of course, but there’s no point to taking yet another engagement survey before you’ve shared results and tried to implement change.

Each time you ask employees to submit feedback, you should also be sharing the results of those surveys. It’s not a question of getting granular as breaking down every answer, but you should be sharing the main themes—good and bad—and the subsequent plan of action.

3. Leaders need to distinguish between “relevant” and “irrelevant” emotions before making a decision

Emotional Temperature Draw

As emotions play a bigger role in the workplace, you need to know which emotions are “relevant” and “irrelevant” to a choice before going forward. For instance, is your decision being influenced by your mood, since you haven’t slept well or are in a generally heightened state of agitation? It’s important to realize those emotions are irrelevant to the decision—especially when you might make a different choice when you’re feeling well rested and in a great mood. This can stop rash decisions as well as those that don’t serve you or your team.

When on the cusp of a major decision, Liz and Mollie always advise people to list everything they’re feeling, then try to figure out what is relevant to the decision and what is irrelevant. This can be especially important for women in the workplace, who tend to pick a lower-risk option when they’re highly stressed.

4. Sometimes burnout “taps you with a feather”; sometimes it “hits you like a bus”

Emotion Indicator Draw

Many people only recognize burnout when they’re past the point of exhaustion and maintenance. (This is, of course, the bus.) But part of your job is to recognize those feather moments on a daily basis, when you’re not past the burnout point-of-no-return, and can still take care of yourself with small breaks. This is the sustainable approach to managing burnout, when you can step away for an hour, a weekend, or simply calm yourself down in a moment.

Liz and Mollie stress that “wellbeing is a state of action,” which means you have to continually check in with yourself—your body, your emotions—before you end up burnt out on a couch for a month.

5. The relevance of emotion in the workplace varies across borders and among cultures.

Some cultures are more expressive than others; some are more direct in how they communicate; some are less comfortable with emotions entirely. For instance, emotions play an immensely different role in Japan (less expressive and confrontational) than they do in Israel (more expressive and confrontational). Caveat: there’s a huge range within all countries and that just because you come from that country, doesn’t mean that is how you are.

Part of the way to manage this can be to self-identify how your communication style may be different to that of your team members’—this can take out an element of confusion or the risk of misreading emotional cues. As workplaces diversify, and remote work brings in more talent from different pockets of the globe, we need to be aware of how our cultural communication style meshes—and, at times, clashes—with others on our teams.

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