ADVANCES IN TECHNOLOGY have had a phenomenal impact on the business world. Ubiquitous high-speed internet and mobile devices have given constant access to vast quantities of information and completely transformed the way companies operate. These changes are usually heralded as promoting speed and efficiency. They are designed to make life easier for the average employee. But all too often, it turns out that the net effect is just the opposite. For many people, the working day now stretches far beyond the mythical "nine to five", and it rarely finishes when they leave the office.
In every workplace, it is a common complaint that laptops, mobile phones, and tablets mean employees are always on call. Evenings at home are interrupted by conference calls with an overseas buyer or a head office director, and the emails never stop. There is no getting away from them, even at weekends or during the supposed escape of a holiday overseas.
No in-depth market research or weighty academic study is needed to show that technology has added to the general level of occupational stress. Timelines are shorter, demands constant, and expectations higher for some form of "instant" action. And, while that may be a recipe for generating bigger corporate profits in the short term, it can create health problems for individual members of staff and, by extension, for the company as a whole.
If a manager is not alert to what's happening, the various pressures will cause morale and performance to suffer. That will become evident in an increased number of sick days, missed deadlines and a falling off in levels of commitment and consistent standards of quality.
However, an emotionally intelligent leader will be fully aware of the forces at work. He or she will see it as a responsibility to read the signs and take well-considered pre-emptive measures. These will ensure that the organisation benefits from applying the latest technology, but a good boss will also understand that getting staff to work productively is just as much a matter of having reasonable expectations and of engaging the emotions. Being able to do this is a broadly recognised business skill. The emotional management of others, which allows a leader to influence the moods and feelings of colleagues towards a positive outcome, is often what helps the best executives stand out from the crowd.
There can also be a remarkable difference between the culture of companies which accept and promote a belief in emotional awareness and those which do not. It is no coincidence that the former tend to make it on to those closely studied lists of "most admired" organisations or "best companies to work for". The latter may still be achieving impressive financial results, but they are likely to be the companies wrestling with staff retention issues and struggling to build loyalty.
To create a work environment in which emotional intelligence is seen as genuinely important requires no major upheavals. Anyone can develop the requisite skills and make them part of the daily routine when dealing with colleagues and subordinates. All it takes to get started is to follow these steps:
Create a positive work environment If you want people to feel good about where they work, make the office a place where they can at least feel comfortable. Give sufficient thought to the layout, decoration, allocation of space and amenities. Make cleanliness a priority and ensure that everything has a "home", so that desks or corridors are not cluttered with leftover copies of last year's financial report or mysterious cardboard boxes. It is amazing how much difference a few well-placed wall hangings or plants can make, especially if they are displayed in natural lighting. You will soon find that if a team is in surroundings it likes, the work will run more smoothly.
Help people deal with problems All of us have different "coping mechanisms" when things go wrong at work or in our personal lives. An astute leader will learn to detect how each member of a team deals with their emotional highs and lows, and will carefully assess how to handle each situation. With one person, it might be best to suggest a cup of coffee and a quiet chat; for another, the better move might be to offer extra assistance with an ongoing project. The main point is to be flexible, imaginative and realise that people may work for the same company, but their emotions can differ dramatically.
Resolve issues, don't avoid them Far too often, when managers see someone is obviously unhappy, they think the best solution is to turn a blind eye. They tell themselves the problem will sort itself out or, at best, take the "wait and see" approach. But that rarely works. Instead, a leader should be prepared to tackle potentially difficult issues quickly and appropriately. While an unhappy employee may not want to pour their heart out, it will help them to know that the boss has noticed that there is a problem and is willing to help as necessary.
Motivate with more than money Many companies are conditioned to think that staff are motivated by money alone, but that is not true. The best leaders also realise the importance of job satisfaction, self-esteem and empowerment. In combination, these create a positive emotional state, with an impact that can easily outweigh any short-term financial rewards.
Encourage alternative perspectives The ability to change another person's mood is the hallmark of a leader who possesses real emotional intelligence. It might be a question of finding the one positive among many apparent negatives or of pointing out that when one door closes, another opens. Sometimes, just being prepared to listen goes a long way to solving a problem, by allowing someone to find an alternative perspective of their own.
Help others feel positive For a boss, the simplest way is to let people know you are interested in them as individuals, not just in what they do in the workplace. This will encourage openness, break down unnecessary barriers and gradually engender a stronger sense of team spirit. Leaders skilled in recognising and managing the emotions of others regularly achieve superior results. They run teams which work as cohesive units, where everyone feels valued and where the end product is more than the sum of the parts. These attributes will not slow the pace of technological change, but they will create a better working environment by showing employees their feelings are recognised and taken into account.
TIPS TO WIN
Encourage individuality Managing the emotions of a team involves more than maintaining enthusiasm and overcoming adversity. It entails creating an environment where people willingly support each other's needs and objectives.
Achieving this is particularly important in organisations with individuals from diverse backgrounds and cultures working together on a daily basis.
Problems can easily arise when emotional differences are misunderstood. To avoid this requires special effort to create awareness of different backgrounds and emphasise how diverse experience benefits the group.
The team leader must accept responsibility for ensuring that individuality is valued and that people feel comfortable about offering and receiving feedback from colleagues in a constructive way.
The need for processes While allowing room for individual viewpoints, it is also vital to put sufficient processes in place to guide day-to-day work. These provide a handy frame of reference for dealing with recurring items and are a good starting point for any discussion relating to enhanced procedures or impending change.
Such processes should not be set in stone or allowed to become bureaucratic obstacles with no real benefit for anyone. Their purpose should be to simplify planning, accelerate decision making, minimise problems and improve communication.
Building a team Peter Drucker, the renowned management guru, had an interesting perspective on how great leaders displayed emotional intelligence to their team. He believed that effective leaders tended not to use the word "I". This is not because they had made a conscious effort to eliminate it from their vocabulary, but because they were thinking first and foremost about what was important for the team or organisation as a whole. Therefore, their mindset revolves around "we", and they realise that every successful project is the result of the combined efforts of a great team. An inspiring leader wants the team to get the credit and for each individual to get fair recognition for what they have contributed.