Tap into the Power of Emotion

January 2022 |

Create a supportive environment for your team to express emotion at work, and you will reap the benefits.

Have you ever tried not to cry at work or otherwise hidden your emotions? Most people have, fearing that putting their feelings on display would be perceived as a sign of weakness that could damage their career.

But research supports that showing rational emotions at work will not harm you professionally, as long as those emotions are appropriate to the situation at hand, says Heather Romano, Managing Director of HR and Training at iVET360. “Crying in a meeting may not be appropriate, but crying after you just had to tell someone their cat died is completely reasonable,” she says.

People who work in veterinary medicine know that it’s an emotionally taxing field, where daily stressors—from angry clients to difficult euthanasia decisions—take a costly toll on mental health. And bottling all that up is not a healthy move, says Romano, either for the well-being of your team or that of your practice. “The more pent-up people’s emotions are, they more they act out in other ways,” she says.

Encourage expression
Allowing and encouraging your team to express their feelings to each other can improve your workplace culture and lead to improved performance, she says. A recent study at the University of Kansas found that employees who express an emotional response to failure get better results when they tackle the next related task, compared to those who keep their response strictly logical.

So if you’re stressed or sad, go ahead and talk about it. Take the lead to set an example in this area. “Your team takes their cues from you,” says Romano.

Plus, letting your team know how you’re feeling when you’re having a tough day can gain you empathy and respect. “When they see you being an emotional human being, they connect with you in a far deeper way than on a professional level,” she says.

Human permission slip
This does not mean that you should burst into tears every time something stressful happens, Romano adds. “Don’t go have a cryfest, or your team will think you are weird or crazy,” she says.

You can, however, give yourself and your team permission to simply be human, says Romano. For example it’s okay:

  • to be excited, frustrated, angry or sad at work, or any combination of the above.
  • to tell your team you’re having a rough day.
  • for the team to cry in front of each other.

It can even be okay to cry in front of clients, particularly in the case of euthanasia or any situation when a pet is dying, she says.

Romano has expanded these ideas into a concept that she calls the “Human Permission Slip,” which is an official written list of things that a team jointly decides are okay to do at work from time to time. “It gives people permission to do things that they might otherwise feel guilty about,” she says.

If you’d like to explore creating your own human permission slip, give homework at the next team meeting, Romano suggests. Tell team members to each bring 1 to 10 examples of “human” things that should be okay to do in your practice—things you do not want people to have to apologize for. Then type up the list and post it somewhere visible.

“We refer to our list all the time,” says Romano. “I really recommend creating one for your team. A human permission slip is one of the most powerful tools you can have for improving the culture at your practice.”

Create a Human Permission Slip

Here are items that Heather Romano’s team brainstormed together and jointly declared are okay to do in their workplace:

  • have quiet days
  • have loud days to talk, joke, laugh
  • occasionally forget things
  • politely challenge someone’s perspective and offer your own
  • say, “I have no idea what that is, can you explain it to me?”
  • stay home when you feel ill
  • seek answers from anyone within the organization
  • have off days
  • say “no” when you are too busy
  • say “yes” when anybody does a coffee run