Emotional Culture — Either Manage It Or Burn Out

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A startup's culture is not only highly depended on the team's emotional state but also the founder's. Here's how to cope with stressful situations to keep your business on top.

Have you ever wondered what creates startup culture? Most people associate it with words like “drive”, “passion”, “dedication” but it never helps to explain what the key drivers of the startup culture are, how they make people to be passionate or committed or dedicated in the first place.

When people talk about company culture, they basically refer to cognitive culture, which consists of the shared intellectual values, norms, rituals, traditions, and assumptions that guide a company on its path to grow and thrive. Cognitive culture sets the tone for both employees and managers to behave at work. That’s undeniably important for a company but it doesn’t work for a very dynamic and constantly changing entity like a startup. What is certainly more important for a startup is emotional culture. With regard to HBR research conducted by Sigal Barsade and Olivia A. O’Neill, emotional culture has a direct impact on employee satisfaction, burnout, teamwork, even financial performance and absenteeism.

What’s That, Emotional Culture?

The HBR research reveals a problem of a lack of attention to what emotions and feelings people have at work, what they try to hide or keep to themselves and what they should feel in order to succeed. So what are the key emotions employees may feel at work?

Psychological researches determined that there are only six universal emotions that model our facial expressions. These core emotions are disgust, sadness, happiness, fear, anger, and surprise. What about other emotions so evident in our lives like: jealousy, pride, guilt or shame? Surely, people feel them, though they succeed in hiding these emotions and not showing them on their faces. So basically, people can only express six universal emotions, which in their turn have an impact on company culture. The reason behind this impact is the fact that people in some group/company catch the emotions of others through mimicry and subsequent changes in brain function.

Yeah, this is the key point. We, people, are conformists. We tend to imitate others for the sake of being liked and accepted in the company. That is the main reason why some employee may feel ashamed when they see their employer working late at night. Even if they completed their daily tasks, they will feel uncomfortable to leave the working place. Is it common for startups? I think so…

Startup Practice

I believe that it’s is pretty familiar to you as a startup founder or employee when every day there is an infinite number of tasks for you to cope with. Each task is highly important and you clearly see its big impact on your company. You do your best but there is never enough time to complete everything you planned. Then you start coming to work an hour earlier, leaving an hour later. Slowly but inevitably your work week increases from 40 hours to 50, then to 60, 70, 80, and up to 120 hours. The story about Steve Jobs “90 Hours a Week and Loving It” is a startup reality.

Ask startup founders why they do so and they will enthusiastically reply to you that they want to change the world. But in the end is it so beneficial for the company? Can the startup change the world or will its team burn out, split and bury the startup dream before making the company fly?

Manage It Or Burn Out

There is an enormous bunch of articles and researches on how to prevent a startup team from burning out as well as about emotional intelligence and mindfulness. However, I will prefer to stick to the HBR research, which proposes a solution for managing emotional culture on its whole rather than one of its components (emotional intelligence (EQ), self-management, “soft skills”, etc.). With regard to that solution, we can shape and retransform the existing emotional culture conducting such steps:

#1 Model Emotions

As simple as walking into the office with a smiley face can bring joviality to the team. The team mates will surely smile back and start to feel this emotion. Whereas neutral or angry face expression of the startup founder can quickly spread negative emotions, which will easily infect all the other members of the team. Why? Because of our human tendency to imitate.

#2 Get People To Fake Emotions Till They Feel Them

If we want to cultivate a special emotion in the company, it is good to use the “deep acting” technique. Accordingly to this technique, people make an effort to express a certain emotion and then they suddenly start to feel it.

#3 Implement Emotional Culture Management At All The Levels

I have already emphasized that people tend to imitate others, especially if it can help them in being liked, favoured, or promoted. Hence, it becomes difficult to prevent the team burnout, dissatisfaction, and emotional exhaustion if the startup founders behave like pushing themselves to the limits while propagating mindfulness and joviality. Putting aside that it’s hypocritical, practically it will not simply work out. It’s up to startup founders to establish which emotions shall the team feel, model them and reward people for doing so for the sake of helping a startup to thrive.



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