12th November 2022

Emotional work IS work

How do you know when you’ve had a productive day?

For most people, this probably involves “doing”. Closing deals, making decisions, solving problems etc.

But what about if a chunk of your day was spent understanding and managing your emotions? Or listening to a team member who was dispirited and venting? Would that feel like time well spent?

Why is it that we value mental/physical work (thinking, deciding, learning, doing) over emotional work?

I’ve seen this coming through in clients recently where they are frustrated with themselves for not being able to “do everything”.

These leaders are used to complexity and shifting priorities. High workloads are expected and big decisions do not phase them. But now they are recognising something in themselves which is different but they’re not sure what it is or how to work with it.

“Leaders may quickly recognize the mental fatigue that can come from cognitive labor and the wear and tear from physically pushing through long days or sleepless nights. However, they often underestimate and neglect to directly address their role’s emotional labor.” [HBR, The Emotional Labor of Being a Leader.]

The past few years have been emotional and many leaders haven’t had the space, time (or in many cases the tools) to notice, accept and understand the emotional work they have taken, and continue to take, on.

And now they are reaching a point where the work is taking its toll.

Except “it’s not real work”.

This needs more than a Mindfulness App on your phone (although that can be helpful later on).

First we need to acknowledge that emotional work IS work.

When we recognise this is essential, productive work, we will give it the appropriate space, time and energy.

If we don’t then leaders will continue to try to pretend they know the answers (when they don’t), offer optimistic outlooks (which they don’t really believe), be there for their teams (while feeling alone and isolated themselves) until….. well, let’s be honest, until something (or someone) breaks.