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If You Want To Succeed in Today's New Economy, Learn How To Optimize Employee Emotions

By David Lee
Reprinted from HR Today
Emotions play an important role in an organization’s ability - or inability - to compete successfully in the New Economy. This is because employee emotions affect the primary sources of competitive advantage:
  Intellectual Capital
Customer Service
Organizational Responsiveness
Employee Attraction and Retention
Thus, the more skilled an organization’s management team is at creating a work environment where employees experience positive emotions, the more successful that organization will be.

Knowledge about how to do this has been around for years. The principles and practices involved in bringing out the best in employees are neither arcane nor rocket science. They do take work and patience, though, which is probably why only a small percentage of organizations seem to employee them. Organizations that do the hard work, though, have a workforce that enables them to compete successfully in the marketplace.

Before we cover some of these basic practices, we need to recognize the first step that makes any of this possible. That essential first step is management having a clear understanding of the connection between emotions and competitive advantage. Without a clear and compelling "why," no manager will allocate time for learning and implementing the "how."

Two final comments before getting to the list. First, the list is not meant to be exhaustive, but rather a sample of what world class organizations do, to optimize employee emotional states. Second, as mentioned previously, these practices are not rocket science. With that in mind, as you read each item on the list, the key question to ask is not "Do I know this?" The key question to ask is "Are we doing this?"

Pay the Price of Management Development, Rather Than the Price of Neglecting Management Development

Make no mistake about it, your organization pays for one or the other. They either pay the price of cultivating managers’ supervisory and leadership skills, or they pay the price of having managers who don’t know how to deal with people. The impact of an ineffective or abusive supervisor is huge, because in many ways, a supervisor is the organization to those he or she supervises. The way supervisors treat employees sets the tone for how employees feel about their work and their employer.

Organizations that cultivate their management team use an array of tools and strategies, including management style assessments, management training, executive coaching, and 360 surveys. To make any of this work also requires a clear message from the top that a manager’s value to the organization is dependent upon his or her ability to bring out the best in the people he or she supervises.

Show Respect By Asking Employees For Their Feedback

When management doesn’t ask employees for feedback, they are in essence saying, "We don’t care what you think about how we treat you, and besides, we know what’s best for you anyway." In contrast, when management asks employees for feedback about their management style and practices, they communicate respect and concern. In such an atmosphere, employees are more likely to feel committed to their work and the company.

Asking for feedback isn’t just about communicating respect and concern, though. It’s also about finding out what’s working, and what isn’t. Too often, we assume we know, when we don’t. In one study, conducted by Kepner Tregoe, less than 1/3 of employees surveyed felt their manager knew what motivated them. Over 1⁄2 of the managers surveyed agreed.

Just as smart companies actively and continuously solicit feedback from their customers to find out how well they are meeting their needs, smart companies actively and continuously solicit this kind of feedback from their internal customers - their employees.

Don’t Force Employees To Check Their Brains at the Door

Few things kill the spirit more quickly than mind-numbing work. Give employees the opportunity to think on the job. Encourage them to improve the work processes they’re involved in. Not only does it make sense - people who do the work usually have the best ideas about how to do it better - it makes work more enjoyable and interesting.

In the customer service field, an excellent - and unfortunately underutilized - way to engage employees’ minds, is to turn them into "customer service detectives." Create processes and rewards that encourage them to find out what customers want and then deliver this critical information to key decision-makers.

Give Employees As Much Control As Possible Over Their Work

This strategy is related to the former one. The more control and autonomy employees have over their work, the more they’re able to use their minds. The issue of control goes far beyond the intellectual realm, though. Decades of research shows that when people feel they don’t have control, their intellectual functioning, interpersonal functioning, and behavior deteriorate.

Feeling out of control creates tremendous stress and, if chronic, leads to the condition called Learned Helplessness, which in turn leads to depression. When employees have a say in their work, and therefore feel in control, they become more energized, enthusiastic, and productive. (Important Note - the drive for control is so powerful that if employees aren’t given opportunities for positive control, they will find ways of exerting negative control, such as calling in sick, engaging in work slow downs, illegitimately using Short Term Disability, etc.).

Give Employees Who Serve The Customer, the Power to Please the Customer

When organizations create policies and practices that hamstring the frontline service professional’s ability to please the customer, they are virtually guaranteeing a demoralized, cynical workforce.

Conversely, if frontline customer service professionals have the power to please the customer, the predominant tone of their interactions is one of appreciation and delighted surprise. This can’t help but create a sense of pride and well-being - the emotional foundation of world class customer service.

Notice When Employees Do Things Right

Many managers unwittingly increase their own frustration, while creating a demoralized workforce, by always focusing on employee mistakes. Unfortunately, it’s human nature to notice what’s wrong more easily than what’s right. Since we are all affected by how we are perceived, and since "what gets noticed, gets repeated," giving in to this natural tendency creates a downward spiral of increasing undesirable behaviors and decreasing morale. To prevent this from happening, provide managers with training and coaching about how to become a more consistent "good finder."


By engaging in these management practices, your organization can create an organizational climate that optimizes employee emotions. By helping your management team optimize employee emotions, you will be helping your organization make a significant impact on the primary sources of competitive advantage in today’s marketplace.

About the Author: David Lee is an internationally recognized authority on organizational and managerial practices that optimize employee performance. He is the author of Managing Employee Stress and Safety, as well as dozens of articles on employee and organizational performance that have been published in trade journals and books in North America, Asia, Europe, and Australia. For information on his programs and service, click here.

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