Note: This blog originally published in September 2011.
Today I find myself thinking about showing emotions at work. In today’s professional paradigm, expressing emotions such as anger, sadness or frustration while you are on the clock can brand you for the rest of your career at a company. You can be labeled as “out of control,” an “emotional wreck” or even worse, a “time-bomb.” Despite men and women both feeling emotions equally at work, women seem to wear these stigmatic labels more frequently when they express feelings, than men do. It’s a double standard, in my opinion, and one that needs to be lifted and flipped on its head.
We are what we are
To begin with, displaying one’s emotions, regardless if it comes from a man or woman seems to make management squeamish. Why is it in our culture, emotions still don’t belong at work? It happens. People FEEL things, and simply riding up an elevator or walking through double glass doors every workweek doesn’t change that. Despite our will to keep the personal separate from the professional, we are what we are, 100% of the time, in every situation. But aside from companies needing to get on the bandwagon of acceptance for it, they need to fairly assess and react to both sexes in how emotions are expressed.
A double standard
There was an instance in my past when a superior of mine approached me, seeking to find the creator of a communication of a client not crafted to his satisfaction. I had nothing to do with it, and yet I was at the receiving end of his displeasure. He expressed his frustration to me harshly, with expletives and a quick turn of his heel has he huffed off. Never mind the fact that I was being wrongly accused. The baffling part is how in this instance, there were no ramifications for his behavior. On the flip side, I have been witness to female co-workers expressing frustration by way of misty eyes, and they were labeled emotional…and you can bet their HR file says so.
Why is there a double standard? Why is anger expressed in loud words and animated arm motions permissible behavior, when a sniffle and the dab of a Kleenex are not? Which emotional response is more disruptive to company culture? And if a woman were to get angry instead of expressing emotion by way of tears, would her angry response be viewed as the more acceptable or favorable reaction?
Nope, not according to a study conducted by two Northwestern business students. The business students had actors pretend to apply for jobs in the presence of the study participants. Some of the actors displayed anger, some sadness during their fake application process. The study participants then awarded salaries and job titles to the actors. Not only were the female actors judged to be worse employees when they expressed anger or sadness, but the angry male actors were actually judged to be better hires than both non-angry women and men.
A human element to business
I am not suggesting that breaking down frequently, or stomping around the office is appropriate office behavior for anyone. I wouldn’t want to work for any place where seeing someone bawling their eyes out or ranting is common. But I do believe that there is a very human element to business, and you are bound to show that side of yourself at the place you spend a very large chunk of your time. And furthermore, it is unfair to judge women apart from men based on emotional response. We are wired differently. We are going to respond differently. But that doesn’t mean we should be treated as such in the work place.
~ Desi Driver
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