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Employee Relations

REUTERS/Supri Supri

Dealing with Emotions

in the Workplace
By Kamilia Lahrichi

Emotions are a two-edged sword. Negative ones can jeopardise a

company’s success. Positive ones can boost a team’s productivity.

I magine the following scenario. An

employee had a hard time with
his wife at home. As he heads to
professionals, employees’ negative
emotions can put a company at
risk by impairing performance and
“EI”) is as important as intelligence
and technical skills in predicting a
workplace’s success.
the office, the anger builds up. He productivity.
According to a 2010 research from
then displaces his feelings on his
global management consultancy
colleagues. Employees’ negative emotions Hay Group, EI drives a company’s
Emotions are prevalent in the affect business performance performance. The survey of 283
workplace, especially in frantic A workforce’s ability to identify, clients worldwide shows that an
business environments like Hong understand and manage emotions employee who is not aware of his or
Kong. Of greater concern for HR (called Emotional Intelligence, her emotions (called emotional self-

24 H UMAN R ESOURCESsSeptember 2012

Employee Relations

awareness) and thus does not know Employees’ display of negative the company’s projects, fatigue,
how to cope with it, is likely to be emotions at work can also jeopardise concentration troubles, forgetfulness,
less competent than an employee who a company’s reputation among its indecisiveness, irritability and a lack of
understands it. customer base, sales and marketing desire in socialising with colleagues,
activities in particular. It can affect especially for gregarious employees.
In other words, an employee’s
customer satisfaction and loyalty.
inability to understand why he or she “A person under stress may be
feels angry or frustrated at work will Managing EI is of significant absent from work frequently, take less
translate into arrogant or submissive concern in the Hong Kong care of their appearance, be quick
behaviours, a lack of communication, corporate environment where staff to anger or tears, spend less time
poor decision-making and thus poorer sometimes displays a high level of on their work or have to redo work
team productivity. negative emotions due to the fast- several times, put on or lose weight
paced environment they live in [and] come in late,” says Dr Melanie
Leaders’ incapacity to find out and
and the culture of presenteeism or Bryan, Executive Committee Member
understand negative feelings among
overworking. of the Hong Kong Psychotherapy
team members will prevent them from
Society and Clinical Psychologist at
being empathetic toward their staff.
Identifying a depressed Mind Matters.
This could lead to low leadership
performance and increased pressure employee Besides, HR professionals must
on subordinates through micro- It is critical that HR professionals pay attention to staff’s language to
management, as an example. diagnose erratic emotional and identify emotional instability and
behavioural problems in a workplace. displacement.
Adding cost to the company They have to help department
“Employees who are more
In addition, a lack of emotion managers to be observant of the first
prone to be emotionally unstable
management at work adds cost to HR signs, such as declining performance,
are those experiencing cognitive
management. unfinished projects and increased
distortions, such as over-generalising,
Staff with low emotional self- emotionalising, personalising [and]
awareness are likely to require Changes in behaviours and all-or-nothing thinking,” explains
HR managers to design more mood should also ring the alarm Mr Matchy Ma, Founder of Talent
developmental activities, especially in bell, namely loss of interest in Academy Limited in Hong Kong.
the areas of relationship management
(conflict management, teamwork,
inspirational leadership), social
awareness (empathy, organisational
awareness) and self-management
(adaptability, self-control, positive

Inability to depersonalise from

another’s anger, frustrations of not
handling conflicts constructively with
teammates, fears of not dealing well
with uncertainty and disappointment
in a company’s vision also directly
impact medical costs.

These behaviours can cause stress-

related physical and psychological
illness, poor health and a greater
likelihood to negatively affect other
staff members. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

H UMAN R ESOURCESsSeptember 2012 25

Employee Relations

For example, an employee may of their interpersonal skills and On the other hand, HR professionals
complain that “all the customers knowledge of positive psychology to and managers have to define clear
are not friendly.” This comment enhance staff’s positive emotions and boundaries with employees. They
demonstrates that he over-generalises engagement level in the workplace. do not have to deal with staff’s
by taking only a few facts into They need to develop their ability to psychological issues or counsel them
consideration and jumping to pre- relate to others and their capacity to on their personal life.
mature conclusions. counsel efficiently.
“While being non-judgmental,
Such advice ought to be applied to understanding and concerned about
Applying psychology in the
department managers as well because a given employee, HR people are not
they interact more with employees therapists or counsellors and should
To deal with a depressed employee, than HR practitioners, especially in not try to be,” explains Dr Bryan.
HR professionals have to make Hong Kong companies where HR
the first move because the person If an employee discusses personal
usually constitutes a small department.
will seldom admit that his or her problems with an HR manager, such
HR professionals have to stand as marital discord or financial issues,
behaviour impacts performance and
between managers and employees “the manager should be empathetic
that he or she needs help.
to mediate negative work-related but should limit the conversation,” she
Despite some HR managers’ stressors. They should encourage the says.
reluctance, it is important that formers to be sympathetic towards
they initiate a dialogue and keep HR professionals may consider
their team and train managers to
it focused on work. They should advising the employee to seek help
address their employees’ emotions in a
clearly express their concern for from external professionals.
productive way.
the individual, point to observable
Managers must understand Providing adequate services
behaviours and underline
environmental stressors that contribute
the employee’s professional HR managers have to coach
to employees’ depression and
responsibilities so that he or she employees to avoid emotional
exacerbate their personal problems,
realises the change in attitude. displacement on their colleagues
namely unrealistic job expectations,
HR professionals need to gain and leverage their feelings to foster a
unfair management practices, limited
employees’ trust and make use productive work climate.
decision-making and short deadlines.
In a highly dense metropolis like
Hong Kong, many multinational
Snapshot of employees’ problems corporations, large enterprises and
handled by EAP medium companies adopt family-
friendly policies such as the Employee
Assistance Programme (EAP) to predict
1. Family and relationships
and prevent staff’s burnout.
2. Emotional and personal mental health This professional assistance to
employees and their dependents
3. Work includes confidential counselling
services like a 24-hour hotline,
4. Legal problems
trainings for staff and clinical guidance
5. Child and elder care to address a workforce’s emotional
and behavioural problems.
6. Financial problems Like health insurance and retirement
plans, EAP does not require extra
7. Drugs and alcohol
manpower as services could be
Source: ComPsych Corporation report, EAP/Work-Life Outcomes Report, 2011 provided by an out-sourced company.

26 H UMAN R ESOURCESsSeptember 2012

Employee Relations

In addition, HR professionals can incentivise staff to work harder and redefined. They should be responsible
use coaching conversations and encourage effective communication for formulating a responsive policy
stress audit, through questionnaires between employees and managers. to a workforce’s emotionally erratic
or performance reviews, to help behaviours in order to ensure a
Positivity can also generate
employees overcome negative productive work climate.
innovative thinking and enhance
emotions at work.
creativity. It can enable staff to stay The issue is that HR professionals’
Once HR managers diagnose the focused on their tasks and take more role regarding emotions management
causes of stress, employees can adopt effective decisions. in the workplace is an under-
adequate measures to manage it. HR developed topic in Hong Kong and
Similarly, employees’ positive
departments can develop consistent the region. Besides, HR management
attitude when dealing with clients or
stress management strategies and curricula in universities are
potential clients can increase customer
policy framework. They can set up inadequate for prospective managers
satisfaction and enhance corporate
workshops and seminars about stress in Hong Kong and China as it does
management to increase awareness of not help them handle real life cases.
the issue.
What role for today’s HR It is thus crucial for HR
Emotions at work can be professionals? professionals to develop soft skills
positive On account of the increased like discernment and empathy
competition and level of stress to complement their academic
If employees’ negative emotions
in Hong Kong’s corporate world, knowledge and grasp the importance
threaten a business’ performance,
HR departments have to tackle a of a workforce’s emotional stability.
the contrary holds too. HR
professionals can achieve great workforce’s emotional problems. Empathy in particular – the ability
results by promoting positivity and Employees’ display of negative to understand someone’s feelings and
balancing staff’s emotions – instead of emotions at work can be detrimental motives – matters as much as effective
suppressing it. to business growth. It can affect staff’s leadership to tackle depressed
morale and jeopardise productivity. employees and foster a positive
The more skilled HR managers are
HR professionals’ function has atmosphere in the
at encouraging positivity, the more
therefore to be workplace.
productive the workforce will be. By
prioritising employee recognition,
rewarding staff adequately, fostering a
sense of team spirit and using morale-
boosting notes, HR professionals
can lift a workforce’s spirits, thus
contributing to productivity and
Positive emotions, such as
hopefulness, optimism and resilience,
can foster fellowship between
employees and increase work
achievements. For instance, a “staff
thanksgiving day” can be held after
the company achieved good results.
This move expresses gratitude
towards good performance and the
staff will feel valued.
Displaying a cheerful mood create
an inclusive work environment,
REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

H UMAN R ESOURCESsSeptember 2012 27