Warming up to emotion is key to corporate competitive edge


More hours and less pay combined with growing concerns over job security in an increasingly volatile market are causing growing numbers of Britons to bury their feelings in order to cope with the pressure.

Deadlines, late nights and increased expectations, as well as uncertainty over the future, are rendering some professionals “totally incapable” of dealing with simple problems without a “significant” fall in performance.

Offices could become “toxic working environments” within 10 years unless bosses take steps to reduce workplace stress and add some fun back into the workplace, experts fear.

Despite the need to speak about their experiences and concerns, they fear being labelled as “unprofessional” and putting their position within the company at risk.

But corporate consultant and coach Geetu Bharwaney, one of the world’s leading authorities on emotional resilience in the workplace, warns that businesses could be crippled by the rise of “machine management”.

The international bestselling author of ‘Emotional Resilience’ and founder of talent and leadership firm Ei World, said: “Today’s professionals face enormous pressures and demands at work, while at the same time worrying about their job security in an increasingly volatile environment.

“But most people can’t share these experiences and feelings for fear of being seen as unprofessional and not fit for their job.

“Some managers don’t see emotion as part of the toolkit they need to be effective in generating productivity through an engaged workforce. They treat their staff like machines and miss the important detail of emotion that can unlock performance in any job setting.

“In this type of professional environment, where emotion is not considered ‘normal’ or acceptable, people can’t manage their emotions well and shut down, withdrawing from their situation and colleagues as a self-defence mechanism.

“Emotions, however, provide a vital source of information in the workplace. If professionals deliberately try to tune out of this, disconnecting from both their own and teammates’ emotions, then they cannot get a full picture of what’s going on and employee engagement, talent retention and brand reputation all suffer.”

Bharwaney added: “The fact is that customers, clients and colleagues expect and deserve to be able to interact with people in an open and transparent way.

“What they don’t want is to be dealt with as a machine by people who have (or at least display) the same emotional range as a tea spoon.

“Business is about people and relies on effective working relationships to succeed. Forcing a person to switch off and become what we call an ‘iceberg employee’ will undermine performance very quickly.”

The UK is in the midst of a stress epidemic, brought about by long hours and excessive workloads.

Over 10.5million working days are lost to stress-related illness each year, according to a recent study by the Trade Union Congress.

Research conducted by HR consultancy Towers Watson, meanwhile, found that over half of highly-stressed employees felt disengaged from their work.

In response, larger companies have introduced mindfulness and resilience training, which has been shown to improve productivity and work day retention.

But these focus on specific pressures rather than the ongoing challenges of the ‘daily grind’ and businesses of all sizes need to do more to “break down the emotional dam”, Bharwaney said.

Without emotional resilience training, people in stressful and volatile positions risk becoming iceberg employees – folk with little personality, warmth or passion for their work who could potentially damage customer relationships and the company’s bottom line.

“All resilience and well-being training is beneficial, but my research and experiences as a coach have led me to realise that it is emotional resilience which is central to effectiveness at work, an approach that takes a full view of how someone handles themselves personally, in teams and across the entire organisation,” she said.

“Emotionally resilient people – those who have the flexibility and know-how to deal with ongoing situations rather than one-off problems or crises – are the most consistently productive professionals.

“The bigger picture is that companies that embrace emotional resilience have a competitive advantage by having fully functional individuals and teams working towards the organisation’s goals.

“By contrast, those that continue to accept a culture of human icebergs will encounter poorer productivity and may, somewhat fittingly, face being frozen out of the market.”

Bharwaney, who has worked with more than 15,000 professionals and 1,000 corporate teams across the world in a 26-year career, added: “Ignoring emotion is unnatural and harmful to all concerned.

“It means professionals miss an essential ingredient needed to get the best results out of themselves and their teams, which in turn harms their company’s bottom line in a fiercely competitive playing field.”