‘Tis The Season to Be Jolly…Maybe

By Heather Campbell

Well, December has arrived. It’s an auspicious month; one that brings Hanukkah and Christmas festivities, one that heralds the end of the calendar year. Here in the UK we’re hunkering down in the depth of winter, while in Australia people are looking forward to summer and the long school break.

In the workplace, it’s a time for year-end accounts, budgeting, performance reviews, bonus announcements, objective setting…

December isn’t just another month. And, for that reason, it’s a month of heightened emotion. Happiness, excitement, disappointment, sadness, fear, jealousy, guilt – they’re all swirling around and they’re all on steroids, even more so this year (I’ll only mention it once) because of the shock and disruption that Covid-19 has brought. 

On a recent call, one of my clients was telling me about putting up Christmas decorations. Usually a time of fun and excitement, this year the predominant emotion was sadness. Over the years, she has visited Christmas markets and bought decorations from each one – putting up the tree this year has been a reminder of lack of travel and new experiences during 2020. Now, you might find yourself thinking ‘Get over yourself. That’s not a big deal. There are lots of people who’ve had more than that to deal with.’

And that is also reality, but it doesn’t invalidate the individual’s response. The thing is, this year, more than ever, leaders need to have deep awareness of their own emotional responses and those of the people we’re leading. We need to be able to recognise and manage our emotions, and support others appropriately because, if we don’t, we undermine motivation, morale, engagement and commitment. We increase the potential for stress, burnout and poor mental health. In short, we create a fertile environment for low productivity and underperformance in 2021.

On the other hand, manage this well, and you’ll make a significant contribution to getting 2021 off on a positive footing as well as providing the kind of leadership that shows you truly value the people you lead.
So, this week and next, I’m going to explore the range of emotions that are around right now, look at how you can recognise these and what you can do to manage your own and support others in managing theirs. That’s a lot to cover but I believe it’s so important that I’m going to write a couple of extra articles for the next couple of weeks. That way, we can really address this topic.

To do that, we first need to consider what predominant emotions are around right now and how we might see them expressed in our workplace.

Happiness – potentially expressed as relief, positivity, excitement, humour and fun. A lot of people are looking forward to the break point that December represents. That has a feel-good factor in itself. Many will be having the opportunity to get together with friends and family. There will be those who are welcoming a year-end bonus, reflecting all their hard work during 2020. If people were happy all the time, we’d certainly find leadership easier, wouldn’t we? Since, we’re mostly pretty good at handling this, I’m not going to major on it in these emails.

Fear – potentially expressed as anxiety, tension, decreased patience, increased fault-finding. Ongoing threats to job security, uncertainty about what will happen in 2021, having failed to hit targets, lack of control over matters that are important to us, health, an unmanageable workload. There are plenty of things that we see as a threat and therefore will heighten fear at the moment.

Anger – potentially expressed as conflict, jealousy, fault-finding, negativity. A primary driver of anger is the feeling that we have been unfairly treated. Losing our job, having been furloughed, not having been furloughed, not getting a bonus or getting less than we expected, opportunities we expected to come our way that disappeared without good reason, having missed important life and family events. Again, 2020 has been a hotbed of all of sorts of things that feel unfair and are can quickly cause anger.

Sadness – potentially expressed as withdrawal, feeling down, change in level of engagement, lack of energy. There’s been plenty to feel sad about in 2020. Being away from family and friends, lack of stimulation in so many ways, lost opportunities, significant changes to our normal lives. You’ll have plenty to add, I’m sure.

Guilt – potentially expressed as defensiveness, over-compensating, withdrawing from people in relation to whom we feel the guilt. While this year has brought challenges for a lot of people, there are also those who have benefitted or been relatively unaffected by the changes it has brought. For people who are still in jobs while colleagues were made redundant can drive a significant feeling of guilt. Individuals who have received a bonus while others haven’t can feel it too. Again, those who were furloughed versus those who weren’t comes into the picture. Those who were able to enjoy time off or the opportunity to feel less pressured to be out and about socialising can feel guilty when they realise that others didn’t have such a good experience. There’s certainly extra guilt around at the moment.

Put all of these different emotions into the melting pot of the organisational system, and you can see why emotions are not something that leaders can ignore. In fact, quite the opposite. That’s why, more than ever, we need skill in understanding and managing our own emotions, and in confidently supporting those we lead.

In my next article, I’ll explore how the leaders’ emotions impact, how to build awareness of these and how to manage them appropriately.

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