How faking your feelings at work can be damaging

Putting up a fake smile on Monday morning is sometimes unavoidable. There could be consequences to carrying a heavy emotional labor load to get over the Monday Blues.


Imagine yourself 35,000 feet up, pushing a trolley down a narrow aisle surrounded by restless passengers. A toddler is blocking your path, his parents not immediately visible. A passenger is irritated that he can no longer pay cash for an in-flight meal, another is demanding to be allowed past to use the toilet. And your job is to meet all of their needs with the same show of friendly willingness.

For a cabin crew member, this is when emotional labour kicks in at work.

A term first coined by sociologist Arlie Hochschild, it’s the work we do to regulate our emotions to create “a publicly visible facial and bodily display within the workplace”.

Simply put, it is the effort that goes into expressing something we don’t genuinely feel. It can go both ways – expressing positivity we don’t feel or suppressing our negative emotions.

Unhelpful attitudes such as ‘I’m not good enough’ may lead to thinking patterns in the workplace such as ‘No-one else is working as hard as I seem to be’ or ‘I must do a perfect job’, and can initiate and maintain high levels of workplace anxiety -  Leonard

Hochschild’s initial research focused on the airline industry, but it’s not just in-flight staff keeping up appearances. In fact, experts say emotional labour is a feature of nearly all occupations in which we interact with people, whether we work in a customer-facing role or not. The chances are, wherever you work, you spend a fair portion of your working day doing it.

When research into emotional labour first began, it focused on the service industry with the underlying presumption that the more client or customer interaction you had, the more emotional labour was needed.

However, more recently psychologists have expanded their focus to other professions and found burnout can relate more closely to how employees manage their emotions during interactions, rather than the volume of interactions themselves.

Perhaps this morning you turned to a colleague to convey interest in what they said, or had to work hard not to rise to criticism. It may have been that biting your lip rather than expressing feeling hurt was particularly demanding of your inner resource.

But in some cases maintaining the façade can become too much, and the toll is cumulative. Mira W, who preferred not to give her last name, recently left a job with a top airline based in the Middle East because she felt her mental wellbeing was at stake.

In her last position, the “customer was king”, she says. “I once got called 'whore' because a passenger didn't respond when I asked if he wanted coffee. I’d asked him twice and then moved to the next person. I got a tirade of abuse from the man.”

“When I explained what happened to my senior, I was told I must have said or done something to warrant this response… I was then told I should go and apologise.”

“Sometimes I would have to actively choose my facial expression, for example during severe turbulence or an aborted landing,” she says. “Projecting a calm demeanour is essential to keep others calm. So that aspect didn't worry me. It was more the feeling that I had no voice when treated unfairly or extremely rudely.”

During her time with the airline, she encountered abuse and sexism – and was expected to smile through it. “I was constantly having to hide how I felt.

Over the years and particularly in her last role, handling the stress caused by suppressing her emotions became much harder. Small things seemed huge, she dreaded going to work and her anxiety escalated.

“I felt angry all the time and as if I might lose control and hit someone or just explode and throw something at the next passenger to call me a swear word or touch me. So, I quit,” she says.

She is now seeing a therapist to deal with the emotional fallout. She attributes some of the problems to isolation from family and a brutal travel schedule, but has no doubt that if she hadn’t had to suppress her emotions so much, she might still be in the industry.

Mira is not alone. Across the globe, employees in many professions are expected to embrace a work culture that requires the outward display of particular emotions – these can including ambition, aggression and a hunger for success.

The way we handle emotional labour can be categorised in two ways – surface acting and deep acting

A few years ago, the New York Times wrote a “lengthy piece about the “Amazon Way”,describing very specific and exacting behaviour the retail company required of its employees and the effects, both positive and negative, that this had on some of them. While some appeared to thrive in the environment, others struggled with constant pressure to show the correct corporate face.

“How we cope with high levels of emotional labour likely has its origins in childhood experience, which shapes the attitudes we develop about ourselves, others and the world,” says clinical and occupational psychologist Lucy Leonard.

“Unhelpful attitudes such as ‘I’m not good enough’ may lead to thinking patterns in the workplace such as ‘No-one else is working as hard as I seem to be’ or ‘I must do a perfect job”, and can initiate and maintain high levels of workplace anxiety,” says Leonard.

Workers are often expected to provide good service to people expressing anger or anxiety – and may have to do this while feeling frustrated, worried or offended themselves.

“This continuous regulation of their own emotional expression can result in a reduced sense of self-worth and feeling disconnected from others,” she says.

Hochschild suggests that the way we handle emotional labour can be categorised in two ways – surface acting and deep acting – and that the option we choose can affect the toll it takes on us.

Take the example of a particularly tough phone call. If you are surface acting you respond to the caller by altering your outward expression, saying the appropriate things, listening while keeping your actual feelings entirely intact. With deep acting you make a deliberate effort to change your real feelings to tap in to what the person is saying – you may not agree with the manner of it but appreciate the aim.

Both could be thought of as just being polite but the latter approach – trying to emotionally connect with another person’s point of view – is associated with a lower risk of burnout.

Jennifer George’s role as a liaison nurse with a psychiatric specialism in the Accident & Emergency department at Kings College London Hospital puts her at the sharp end of health care. Every day she must determine patients’ needs – do they genuinely need to be admitted, just want to be looked after for a while or are they seeking access to drugs?

“It’s important to me that I test my own initial assumptions,” she says. “As far as I can, I tap into the story and really listen. It’s my job but it also reduces the stress I take on.”

“Sometimes I’ll have an instinctive sense that the person is trying to deceive, or I can become bored with what they’re saying. But I can’t sit there and dismiss something as fabrication and I don’t want to.”

This process can be upsetting, she says. Sometimes she has to say no “in a very direct way”, and the environment can be noisy and threatening. “I stay as much as I can true to myself and my beliefs. Even though I need to be open to what both fellow professionals and would-be and genuine patient cases say to me, I will not say anything I don’t believe and that I don’t believe to be right. And that helps me,” she says.

When things get tough, she talks to colleagues to unload. “It’s the saying it out loud that allows me to test and validate my own reaction. I can then go back to the person concerned,” she says.

Ruth Hargrove, a former trial lawyer based in California, also faces tricky interactions in her work representing San Diego students pro bono in disciplinary matters. “Pretty much everyone you are dealing with in the system can make you labour emotionally,” she says.

One problem, says Hargrove, is that some lawyers will launch personal attacks based on any perceived weakness – gender, youth – rather than focusing on the actual issues of the case.

“I have dealt with it catastrophically in the past and let it eat at my self-esteem,” she says. “But when I do it right, I realise that I can separate myself out from it and see that [their attack] is evidence of their weakness.”

Rather than refuting specific, personal allegations, she simply sends back a one-line email saying she disagrees. “Not rising to things is huge,” she says. “It’s a disinclination to engage in the emotional battle that someone else wants you to engage in. I keep in sight the real work that needs to be done.”

Those who report regularly having to display emotions at work that conflict with their own feelings are more likely to experience emotional exhaustion

Hargrove also has to deal with the expectations of clients who believe – sometimes unrealistically – that if they have been wronged, justice will prevail. She understands their feelings, even as she has to set them straight.

“I empathise here, as a parent, with their thought that there should be a remedy, even when I know it’s not going to be achievable. It helps me that this feeling is also true to me.”

Remaining true to your feelings appears to be key – numerous studies show those who report regularly having to display emotions at work that conflict with their own feelings are more likely to experience emotional exhaustion.

Of course, everybody needs to be professional at work and handling difficult clients and colleagues is often just part of the job. But what’s clear is that putting yourself in their shoes and trying to understand their position is ultimately of greater benefit to your own well-being than voicing sentiments that, deep down, you don’t believe.

Leonard says there are steps individuals and organisations can take to prevent burnout. Limiting overtime, taking regular breaks and tackling conflict with colleagues through the right channels early on can help, she says, as can staying healthy and having a fulfilling life outside work. A “climate of authenticity” at work can be beneficial.

“Organizations which allow people to take a break from high levels of emotional regulation and acknowledge their true feelings with understanding and non-judgemental colleagues behind the scenes tend to fare better in the face of these demands,” she says.

Such a climate can also foster better empathy, she adds, by allowing workers to maintain emotional separation from those with whom they must interact.

Where it is possible, workers should be truly empathetic, be aware of the impact the interaction is having on them and try to communicate in an authentic way. This, she says, can “protect you from communicating in a disingenuous manner and then feeling exhausted by your efforts and resentful of having to fake it”.

SOURCE:
Levy, K (25 June 2018) "How faking your feelings at work can be damaging" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20180619-why-suppressing-anger-at-work-is-bad


Five Practical Ways to Support Mental Well-being at Work

Mental well-being impacts engagement, absenteeism and productivity. Discover how help make the workplace atmosphere and environment more pleasant with these tricks.


The American Institute of Stress reports that stress is the nation’s top health problem. This makes sense, as mental capacity is highly valued in the workplace but can also be highly vulnerable. Today’s workplace, with technology, fast-paced growth and decreased resources, can contribute to increased stress.

Companies should value the mental health of their employees as a top asset and fiercely protect it. Mental well-being impacts engagement, presenteeism, absenteeism and productivity — all of which impact businesses bottom lines. More importantly, supporting and protecting the mental health of your employees is the right thing to do.

Here are five best practices to support mental health in the workplace.

  1. Normalize the conversation.

Top-down support of mental health is crucial in creating an open dialogue, as is an open-door policy. Senior leaders should participate in the conversation about mental wellbeing to show buy in. Normalizing the occurrence of a grief reaction or stress disorder can insure that your employees seek help when it happens to them.

Establishing mental health champions within your organization is another way to encourage a healthy dialogue. People with mental health conditions who want to help others are great candidates for this role.

Use awareness days that focus on stress and mental health as external nudges to educate staff about these important issues. Importantly, remind staff that a diversity of perspectives, including those with lived mental health experiences, are valued and encouraged in inclusive environments.

  1. Implement strong policies and procedures.

Disclosure can help an employee seek the appropriate resources and care before conditions worsen, so having proper policies and procedures in place are important in removing barriers to disclose.

This includes protection against discrimination, which is usually a top concern for employees, as well as providing appropriate workplace accommodations. Ensure managers are aware of key resources, like employee assistance programs, and maintain confidentiality when an employee discloses information.

Beyond this, educate employees on policies, procedures and proper protocols to increase employee awareness. Here’s a tip: Repeat key messages and tailor your communications to better reach your staff.

  1. Prevention is better than cure.

It’s essential to remember that anyone is susceptible to stress and a resulting decline in their mental health, whether a preexisting condition exists or not. Big life events like having a baby or losing a loved one and every day struggles like money worries, relationship issues or work-related stress can cause or aggravate mental health conditions to the point of interfering with work. 

Mental wellness sessions or work/life balance programs can help. Bring in an expert and talk to your staff about how to safeguard their own mental health, build resilience and recognize signs of distress in others.

  1. Tailor your benefits package to support mental wellbeing.

Choose a major medical plan that gives employees access to quality mental health specialists in network, as these costs can add up significantly. Helping employees have access to and triage the right specialist support is crucial in managing conditions.

EAPs can act as a first line of defense for a wide range of problems – from money and relationship worries to support for working caregivers. They provide both practical and emotional support for employees through confidential counseling and can help prevent issues from escalating and impacting productivity. These programs are often offered as part of a major medical or disability plan, so your company may already have access to them.

Money worries can also take an emotional toll on wellbeing. In fact, financial concerns were the leading cause of stress across all generations in a recent consumer study conducted by my company, Unum.

Help your employees establish a strong financial foundation by offering financially-focused benefits, like life and disability insurance, retirement savings options and supplemental health benefits that can close the rising financial gap in medical plans.

If your budget doesn’t cover these benefits, consider offering them on a voluntary basis. Access to financial protection benefits are more affordable when offered through the workplace, even if the employee picks up the cost.

Flexible hours or remote working options can also help employees schedule their work days when they’re feeling most productive. This can help reduce presenteeism for mental ill-health, and it also signals to employees that you’re supportive of a healthy work/life balance.

  1. Encourage self-care.

Self-care plays a critical role in overall wellbeing. Encourage employees to do small tasks that’ll help them build resilience over time.

The basics like getting plenty of sleep, eating healthy, drinking water, and exercising are foundational in overall wellbeing.

Beyond these staples, developing appropriate time management and work/life balance skills are also important. Delegating and collaborating are also key to ensure healthy work behaviors which also decrease stress.

While technology and our always-on culture make it hard to disconnect, encourage employees to set device off-times so they can fully recharge before the next day. And most important, model this behavior to your staff and limit after hours work and emails.

Having a holistic mental well-being strategy that includes prevention, intervention and protection is essential for unlocking a workforce’s true potential.

 

SOURCE:
Jackson M (4 June 2018) "Five Practical Ways to Support Mental Well-being at Work" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from http://www.workforce.com/2018/05/18/five-practical-ways-support-mental-well-work/


The Business Case for Providing Health Insurance to Low-Income Employees

Low income employees without health insurance could be detrimental for a business. This study explains why providing health insurance for low income employees is crucial for successful performance in the workplace.


After the failed negotiations over the repeal of Obamacare earlier in March, the Trump administration appears to be on the brink of proposing a new health care bill. While the details are still sketchy, it seems likely that the new bill will leave many lower-income Americans without access to health insurance.

I believe there is a case to be made that, should this take effect, the private sector has a strong incentive to step in. The provision of health insurance by organizations is a sensible business decision—especially for low-income individuals. In fact, a number of studies—including one that I co-authored—highlight that health insurance coverage can be beneficial to the bottom line of businesses, and should be endorsed by managers as good corporate strategy if they seek to increase their productivity.

Health insurance for low-income employees is good business for at least three reasons: it is linked with reduced levels of stress, more long-term decision-making, and increased cognitive ability, as well as (perhaps somewhat obviously) increased physical health — all of which are crucial components of higher organizational performance.

Health Insurance Can Reduce Stress

Among other positive outcomes, health insurance significantly decreases the level of stress employees experience, as a study described in a recent working paper shows. Johannes Haushofer of Princeton University and several colleagues worked with an organization in Nairobi, Kenya — the metalworkers of the Kamukunji Jua Kali Association (JKA) — and randomly allocated some employees to receive health insurance free of cost for one year. In other words, the researchers sponsored a health care plan for a proportion of JKAs’ employees, whereas others continued working for JKA as usual.

In addition to collecting data through surveys — for example on the employees’ self-reported health and well-being, and their household characteristics — the researchers did something rather unusual: they collected saliva samples from all respondents, which were later tested for the stress hormone cortisol. These measurements occurred at two time points, at the start of the study and at the end.

The researcher’s results were striking. Not only did employees who received free health insurance report feeling less stressed, but this decline correlated with a reduction in the cortisol measured in the saliva sample. The decrease in cortisol was comparable to roughly 60% of the difference between people who are depressed, and people who are not.

This is important for organizations because employees who experience higher levels of stress are more prone to burning out, and less likely to attain high levels of performance. Stressed employees hurt the bottom-line — and interventions that reduce stress benefit it.

Health Insurance Can Lead to More Long-Term Decision-Making

But health insurance can do more, too. A paper I co-authored with Elke Weber of Princeton University and Jaideep Prabhu of Cambridge University that was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciencesfocuses on one reason why low-income individuals have difficulties escaping their destitute situation. As research has found, we show that poor people are more likely to make decisions that favor the short term, even when these decisions involve smaller payoffs than larger payouts they might receive in the future.

In our study, we find that this is partially the case because low-income individuals experience more pressing financial needs than their richer counterparts. Because they are so pre-occupied with making ends meet, they are unable to even consider a possible larger payout in the future. This way, they remain captured in what Johannes Haushofer and Ernst Fehr of the University of Zurich so aptly call the “vicious cycle of poverty.”

However, we also find that interventions that serve to reduce levels of financial need that low-income individuals experience can make them more likely to make more long-term-oriented decisions. One such intervention may be the provision of health insurance. With a safety net they can draw on when health problems arise, poor people may be less likely to experience their financial needs as pressing — and as a result, make more long-term-oriented decisions.

This can lead to significant improvements for organizations as well. Companies require their employees to make many long-term decisions. In many cases, a more long-term orientation is necessary for companies to thrive.

Not Having Health Insurance Can Hinder Cognitive Ability

Finally, health insurance can give low-income individuals peace of mind. A seminal study led by Anandi Mani of the University of Warwick investigated the cognitive consequences of poverty. The researchers found — in concordance with an increasing body of evidence — that lack of money saps people’s attention. While they did not specifically study health insurance, it is easy to extrapolate their research to this question. Given that everyone’s attention is limited, the more people’s concerns weigh on their mind, the less attention they can pay to any one concern.

To illustrate this finding, imagine a case where a low-income employee uses her car to come to work every day. She lives paycheck to paycheck and depends on her steady stream of income. Every day, even when she isn’t driving, she worries about what she would do if her car broke down. Such thoughts circle in her mind incessantly — they are always there, no matter what else she tries to focus her attention on.

Obviously, such worrying thoughts have detrimental consequences for her performance. Constant ruminations make it more difficult to focus on tasks that matter in the moment. Now replace the car in the above scenario with her health; let’s assume she has a chronic condition that requires medical attention when it breaks out. This is not an uncommon case: over 34% of employees have chronic medical conditions, which are even more widespread amongst low-income individuals.

Although many of these physical ailments cannot be cured, their accompanying cognitive detriments can be. Thoughts such as, “How will I pay for the doctor? How can I afford my medication?” could be eradicated with the provision of health insurance. This is especially important for low-income individuals who are more likely to have such worries. And with an increased ability to focus on their work, employees are also more likely to be productive members of the organization. 

It is unclear what will happen in Washington D.C. in the next few months. Will Obamacare be repealed? Will millions of low-income individuals lose their health insurance? In the absence of a resolution, managers may have to step up. There is a business case to be made for providing employees with health insurance, which may make them less stressed, improve their long-term decisions, and lead to increased attention on the task at hand — and the case is especially strong for low-income employees.

SOURCE:

Jachimowicz J (29 May 2018). [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://hbr.org/2017/04/the-business-case-for-providing-health-insurance-to-low-income-employees


Why Work? For More than the Money

Discovering the individualized reasons people work is key to helping employers understand what will motivate employees.

According to the article "What People Want from Work: Motivation" on the website The Balance, successful companies need to start with money. Paying employees fair compensation, or ideally more than fair, brings the talent in and reduces the risk of losing great employees. Money helps employees check off responsibilities ranging from taking care of the most basic necessities to enjoying hobbies to long-term planning for retirement.

Turns out, it takes more than money, though. 

While many managers assumed money is the biggest factor, it is only one part of an ecosystem of motivation. Knowing that there are other reasons that get people up and out of bed to head to work can help employers better meet employee needs.

What were some of those factors?

Personal time and attention from a manager, the opportunity to feel known and praised for good work, was the top motivator for workers. Being valued, it turns out, can be as valuable as monetary compensation.

What's more, people want to see that the opposite is also true. Lack of consequences and failure to discipline for not performing is cited as a main demotivator, along with paying those less successful workers the same wage.

Beyond fair pay and managerial recognition, what other factors did workers mention? More control over work, including feeling like they have a say in decision making and goal setting, was one element. Likewise, a feeling of control over schedules and work environments also mattered. Flexibility is a major motivator for many employees. 

Another motivator surrounded opportunity. Both growth opportunities within a role and opportunities for advancement in an institution ranked highly for employees. Access to education and training as well as understanding succession planning and what was needed to be promoted (and that promotions were possible) impact morale and retention.

The big takeaway? While motivation is different for every employee, it is potentially easier than you think to understand what will motivate your employees. Ask them. Many easy, low-cost options abound which, if done well, free up time and money from other efforts that may not yield the assumed results. Pay attention, and you'll find yourself working with motivated, engaged people.

Read the full article here.