In their latest Millennial v Boomer article in the Financial Times Brynne Herbert and Mrs Moneypenny discuss whether it is ever OK to become emotional in the office.
According to the 2015 “Stress in America” report, from the American Psychological Association (AFA), stress is on the rise. Average levels have increased from 4.9 to 5.1 on a 10-point scale; 24 per cent of adults report that they are highly stressed, up from 18 per cent in 2014. Among millennials, the level is 5.9, with 36 per cent reporting increased stress levels. Three quarters report that work is a contributor.
A recent survey from EY shows that managing work-life balance is becoming more difficult: 67 per cent of millennials report that “getting enough sleep” and “managing personal and professional life” are challenges. Constant connectivity on mobile devices, round-the-clock global jobs and social networks mean that they never turn off. Nor is work instrumental for them. They view colleagues as an extension of their social networks and look to them for support during stressful times.
Companies are coping with stressed-out millennials by investing in corporate wellness initiatives, which encompass everything from company yoga and massages to on-site health screens and psychologists. According to IBISWorld research, the size of the US and UK corporate wellness industry is now more than $8bn — and growing.
This is not only embraced but expected by millennial employees (how we support stressed staff is a question I am often asked when interviewing candidates) and it is also good business. APA research shows that stress makes people irritable, anxious, unmotivated and fatigued — all things that drain company productivity and culture.
I have cried twice at work in the last week. The first time was in a small meeting of my leadership team, when I was feeling particularly stressed. Does that matter? I am, after all, the boss. I have long held the belief that showing emotion makes us more authentic leaders, and back in 2000, the award-winning paper by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, “Why Should Anyone Be Led By You?”, said that to be a good leader you should “be yourself”.
But how authentic do I really want to be? I suspect tears should be confined to very few situations and very small groups of people. Over the years I have tried to avoid wearing my heart on my sleeve in the workplace. Nine years after Profs Goffee and Jones penned their piece, business coach Marshall Goldsmith was counselling readers of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) to “put up a brave front”, saying that “if you show a lack of courage, you will begin to damage your direct reports’ self-confidence”. So maybe I should not have cried.
Adam Grant, a professor of psychology at Wharton business school, thinks too much authenticity is a bad thing. He points out that being too authentic might limit your growth, cause you to overshare and make your colleagues feel less able to speak out.
In 2011, consultant Deborah Gruenfeld and Stamford university professor Lauren Zander published “Authentic Leadership Can Be Bad Leadership” in the HBR. “Saying what you think can be highly problematic if the real you is a jerk,” they wrote. This is presumably also true if the real you is weak — and cries.
I therefore suggest that anyone in a position of leadership thinks carefully before crying at work.
The second time I cried was slightly more public. Unexpectedly, at the end of a presentation by the diversity trainees I sponsor, I was presented with the President’s Medal by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, awarded for “distinguished service” to the industry. Sometimes, when you are facing an uphill battle, as with my campaign to get more black and ethnic young people into the communications industry, it is very moving when people notice and say thank you. So in that instance, I think tears were OK.
My alignment with Brynne may not stop there: I am even considering introducing yoga classes at work.