The ability to feel emotion is a significant part of the human experience and we are all driven far more by it than most of us would like to admit.
Did you know, emotions play a pivotal role in our decision-making and even influence our behaviours?
Seeing as we cannot switch off our ability to feel, we are always feeling. Even in the workplace.
Many organisations forget that the way their people behave and engage at work (i.e the way they approach and carry out their role), is influenced by the way they feel.
Neuro-Linguistic Programming has proven that how we feel drives what we do and how we perform, and in terms of employee behaviour, studies have proven this too. One such study found that happy employees are around 20% more productive than unhappy employees. We cannot deny the science, can we?
It goes without saying that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative effect on employee emotions. With mass redundancies, furloughing of staff, a change in working location and being isolated from colleagues, financial stresses and fear for personal health and the health of loved ones (and perhaps many other anxieties), it’s unrealistic to think employees have not been emotionally affected.
In a research study conducted by engagement experts, Inpulse, in May 2020, it was found that anxiety was the most dominant negative emotion at work, having risen by 240% over the same period in 2019 – up from 5% to 17%. Stress was another high negative emotion for employees, at 11%, while isolation rates stood at 7%.
So if emotions influence the way we behave, which we scientifically know for fact, then we know too, that negative employee emotions are likely to negatively affect their working behaviour. This can take shape in many ways, disengaged employees, poor communication, lack of enthusiasm or motivation, to name a few.
Why is knowing how your people feel more important than ever right now?
Employee engagement has never been more at risk than it is right now
In April 2020, (lockdown #1) it was found that over a two week period, almost two-thirds (65%) of employees felt nervous, anxious or on edge. More than two-fifths (43%) had not been able to stop or control worrying, while over half (53%) had little interest or pleasure in doing things and 42% felt down, depressed or hopeless. Now while this is ‘historical’ data, it gives you a fair indication of what employees may be feeling now in lockdown #3 - with Pandemic-fatigue, rising numbers (and not to mention in the heart of winter).
Because employee engagement is a behaviour and an emotional state, it’s at immense risk when employees are overcome with dominant negative emotions. The longer employees feel this way without the right support from their leaders, the less engaged they become and the more problems arise.
You’ll see performance and productivity dwindle, higher staff turnover and absenteeism, poor communication and team morale - all the areas you need to remain strong to see your business through change and crisis. And the toughest part is, employees are working remotely and leaders are leading from afar, making it difficult for leaders to discern employee emotions and detect unfavourable behaviours. At least not without trusted communication and feedback that’ll accurately help to flag concerns, like an employee engagement survey, for example.
Pandemic-fatigue, rising numbers and lockdown in winter is affecting employee emotions
There are organisation’s holding onto hope and waiting for employees to come back around on their own - ‘the vaccine is being rolled out and life will soon return to normal’. But unfortunately, this mindset is only prolonging the exhaustion and causing more damage to employee engagement and wellbeing.
The vaccine is indeed great news and we’re optimistic about the future too, but we all need to live in this present moment - especially leaders, who’s people need them today.
Beyond the host of emotions employees are feeling, there’s also ‘pandemic-fatigue’.Chair of the department of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences, Dr Itai Danovitch explains Pandemic Fatigue: “Pandemic fatigue happens when people are asked to make behavior changes over a long period of time, which is much harder than short-term changes.”
We also have the case for shorter daylight hours and cold weather which impacts and employees ability to physically exercise. In a research study, it was found that 38% of all employees surveyed in the UK struggled to live a physically healthy lifestyle.
All of these unusual changes and the feelings they induce are not the employees’ problem alone. It’s affecting their wellbeing, which affects their behaviour, their engagement at work and their ability to carry out their role in the way that organisation’s desperately need right now (and for many months and years to come).
Founder and CEO of Inpulse, Matt Stephens says, “Not only are people more likely to feel the intensity of the pandemic as dark nights and clouds draw in, but more will simply find it difficult and less appealing to get the physical activity they need. Even a simple walk for fresh air and new perspective isn’t so likely to happen in cold and wet weather. Younger people are particularly at risk, if you consider that many are working from bedrooms, in crowded, potentially overpriced homes that are shared with people they may not know well.”
We’ve only scratched the surface of change; businesses need to adapt for a new world
The world of work is changing, and so are consumer needs and buying behaviours, which means business models are changing too. We’ve, of course, seen working locations change, which may influence future working arrangements, but businesses will also need to adjust and perhaps even rethink their business models to provide their services and sell their products in alignment with modern consumer needs and buying behaviours. We’ve only just scratched the surface of organisational change. And when it comes to implementing change on the ground, it’s your people that make it happen.
Director of coaching at engagement experts Inpulse, says “The success of change and speed of its implementation depends on how people react to it, and this is driven by how they feel.”
Here again, leaders need to understand the importance of understanding their people’s emotions if they want them on their side: to feel engaged and motivated to move the organisation through crisis and facilitate in the success of the change management plan. No good can be done and achieved without the buy in and commitment of the organisation’s most important asset: their people.
The good news...
The good news is, organisation’s can reverse the impending damage of poor employee engagement and wellbeing by communicating with their people and finding out how they feel and what they need to feel supported, and then, of course, delivering. Leaders cannot address or fix problems they don’t know are there, but it’s their responsibility to scratch beneath the surface, uncover employee emotions and seek to change them before poor employee engagement and wellbeing becomes the organisation’s downfall.
As Albert Einstein said, “In the midst of every crisis lies great opportunity.” Leaders have an opportunity to do more than just ‘see it through’. They have the opportunity to restore the engagement, wellbeing and performance of their people, for their people, and the future of their organisation.