The Emotional Revolution at Work

Jonas Altman
Written by Jonas Altman October 24, 2020

In our always-on, instantly gratifying, perpetually productive, and consumptive culture — there has been little room to reflect on our feelings. That is until we were forced to stop. Our thoughts and emotions won’t be kept under the hood any longer. The cultural lexicon is transforming right before our eyes as we let go of what was, and welcome what can be.

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A Better Way of Work

The pandemic has provided us room for reflection. There’s more time for self-inquiry, sensitivity towards colleagues, and scrutiny of our systems. We’ve been presented with an invitation to propel ourselves towards an exciting future.

While some have adjusted better as they move between grooming, zooming, and home-schooling, others have struggled — quietly grieving an old way of working where only the professional self was permitted into the ‘office’.

The ‘place’ and the ways in which we work are ever so surely becoming more human and the opportunity to have one’s values align with their company is no longer a pipe dream. At long last, the soul is returning to the organization.

At long last, the soul is returning to the organization.
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Climbing to the Top

Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard lives and breathes better ways of working. His pioneering organization is the blueprint for business as unusual. For nearly half a century, Patagonia has been in the ‘Business of Saving Our Home Planet.’

In 2018 alone, Patagonia repaired over 100,000 garments. Their 1% for the Planet initiative has raised over 200 million dollars for nonprofit environmental groups, and the company has doubled down on regenerative farming. Most extraordinary is for over forty years the company has had paid leave and on-site family care. Chouinard balances freedom and responsibility so employees can express themselves freely and the organization can grow better, not bigger.

Other well-known companies like Virgin, IDEO, Squarespace, and Spotify and lesser-known ones you’ll find championed by the Rebels like Buurtzorg, Semco, W.L. Gore, and Enspiral -- provide places to work which are emotionally and spiritually nourishing.

Emotionally Fit Leaders

It’s been five years since Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments, decided to set a base salary of $70,000 for everyone including himself. The company is thriving but most interestingly is how staff are having way more babies.

Speaking of babies, when Megan Messenger had her second child she and co-founder at e-commerce marketplace Next Jump, made a bold decision. They turned their company into a deliberately developmental organization (DDO). In essence, a DDO is an incubator for personal and professional development--fostering a learning environment that elevates you to be a badass leader.

And when Hamdi Ulukaya strolls into work one day and instantly makes all of his employees, shareholders — any anxiety of not being able to pay one’s bills dissipates.

Bosses like these lead from the heart and not hurt and set the human spirit free at work. This style of leadership which embodies the feminine spirit is honest, expressive, and emotional. And the proof is in the pudding when it comes to the benefits of this way of showing up for teams: resentment, frustration, infighting, backlashing, failing mental health, and physical ailments so prevalent in ego-laden workplaces are mitigated or avoided altogether.

Worker wellbeing improves under this style of leadership but so too does business performance. Workers who are more committed, motivated, and productive help the company makes more money. Price’s company has doubled in size in the past five years and the value of payments has jumped from $3.8bn a year to $10.2bn. Messenger has seen revenue spike significantly at Next Jump exceeding $2bn in 2016. And Ulukaya now leads America’s sweetheart brand at the largest yogurt manufacturing plant in the world.

Practicing What You Preach

The problem is that, ‘We see these mission statements everywhere, mantras that are designed to inspire belonging and create unwavering loyalty to the company, but the biggest challenge, particularly in big business, is actually practicing what you preach,’ declares Edward Vince a Creative Director at Airbnb.

Cultures are nuanced and made up of the energy people bring and the norms they set. And strategies that make sense for one company may not necessarily work for another. Bold leaders that want to help upgrade the personal operating systems of their people can start by asking and truthfully answering these questions:

  • Can our teams galvanize around an authentic, clear, and compelling purpose?
  • What does our company culture say about us as a destination to work?
  • Do we positively treat our people like adults?
  • How do we cultivate an inclusive culture that treats people right?
  • Can remote work or a shorter work week enable people to advance our mission and do their best work?
  • Do we strive to demonstrate respect and fairness right across the board?

By answering these questions honestly, leaders should see that closing the office as a cost-saving measure at the expense of a worker’s mental health might be a bad idea. They might recognize that diversity and inclusivity are actually good for business. And they might come to see that if the values they install aren’t being lived every day — employees will jump ship.

Do we positively treat our people like adults?
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A Different Hymn

When workers have to bury their emotions and leave parts of themselves at home it affects not only morale but performance. People crave autonomy, variety, personalization, fulfillment, connection, validation, and challenge at work. It may be a lot to ask, but the effort that conscious leaders make to lay fertile ground-- can go the distance. When workers can easily learn, share, and create — they’re motivated to make their best contribution.

Whether at the office or at the kitchen table, people yearn for the freedom to be themselves wherever they happen to be working. And as more and more companies clue up to this reality, rest assured they’ll start singing from a different prayer book.

This is a guest blog by Jonas Altman. He is the founder of design practice Social Fabric and an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia. Altman is passionate about new models of organizing and is the author of SHAPERS: Reinvent the Way You Work and Change the Future. More info on his new book here.

Written by Jonas Altman
Jonas Altman
Canadian-British entrepreneur, coach, and writer on a mission to make the world of work more human. I enjoy riding waves for fun.
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