Every single one of us who once experienced a state of turmoil or an emotionally distressing episode probably also had to be at work at some point. Well, unless in the extreme of circumstances deemed ‘legitimate enough’ to pull the pin on the day’s labour like experiencing the death of a loved one, most of us would’ve still shown up, hiding our anguish with social masks, while keeping with the ‘I’m okay’ narrative to our colleagues. However, this concept is as absurd as it is outdated. Our real lives at home impact us and reverberate across all aspects of our day. Yet the boundaries between the workplace and home often operate in a zero-sum game—usually with our authentic selves suffering the equivalent loss. We have all heard of emotional intelligence, but what about emotional inclusion?
As a leader in the corporate world, general manager of French label Longchamp (Singapore and Malaysia), Mollie Rogers Jean De Dieu strongly advocates for meaningful change in companies, which focuses on the humanity of the workforce. Exacting this mission is her new book Emotional Inclusion: A Humanizing Revolution at Work, one that humanises the workplace in a way never done before. As Rogers Jean De Dieu points out, while emotional intelligence is about a knowing of how to navigate our emotions, inclusion is a verb–it is a doing. In short, in the eyes of the author, being emotionally inclusive puts emotional intelligence into action in a medicalised, confidential, and purpose- driven way. Companies are also able to meaningfully augment growth, purpose, belonging, connection, and innovation through the framework of this new legitimate and science-backed definition and platform. It is a sustainable and measurable way forward.
Dr Amy Edmondson, Harvard professor and the brilliant originator of “psychological safety”, is quick to confidently state that “workplaces with greater psychological safety and emotional inclusion, will make it possible for everyone to contribute and thrive.”
What is psychological safety? It is creating an ecosystem with the “belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up about ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes, and that interpersonal risk-taking is safe.” According to Rogers Jean De Dieu, “a tailored emotional inclusion approach should be our organisational status quo. When we invest in our people, we invest in our business too. Companies are made of people—it is such a matter-of-fact, obvious statement. However, we seem to have forgotten this and instead focus on exploiting our employees to drive their key performance indicators and, by default, even driving some right to their graves.”
“We give our emotions the backseat and instead choose to live in our silos, opening up to maybe a rare, select few. Yet we are all wired for connection–for which emotions are the gateway to.”
Below, see the five ways from Rogers Jean De Dieu’s book to collectively move towards becoming more emotionally inclusive, and thus psychologically safe in our places of employment.
Knowing that you are not alone and breaking the stigma
According to insights from Deloitte as cited in Rogers Jean De Dieu’s book, 50 per cent of millennials and 81 per cent of Gen Z have vacated their employment due to mental health reasons. The reality of it is so prevalent, but yet we still adequately fail to address this. Rogers Jean De Dieu asks a poignant question: “When has navigating life through all its ebbs and flows become something we should hide, or worse, be ashamed of? Why are we so intent on perpetuating a robotic approach to business life?” She goes on to say that when someone at work is enduring a tough patch, when asked how they are getting on, often the responses are ‘fine’ when in actuality what they need is some judgement-free support. “We give our emotions the backseat and instead choose to live in our silos, opening up to maybe a rare, select few. Yet we are all wired for connection—for which emotions are the gateway to.”
Ultimately, there is still a corporate disinclination towards emotion, and assumptions on emotional behaviours made on gender. If we refer back to the book, women who cry at the office are seen as “unprofessional”, whereas men are given “the benefit of the doubt.” To help combat the stigma, we need to show vulnerability, create spaces to harbour a sense of belonging and community. This can be achieved in a number of ways such as mental health literacy programmes and education, peer-led programmes, emotional wellness training for executives and staff. But these initiatives must be done at the grassroots level of the organisation as a collective priority. This goes beyond being just a Human Resources problem.
Understanding why the workforce is the way it is and promoting emotional awareness
“If we press the pause button for a moment to reflect upon our corporate landscape of today, the proof of how little we have evolved within the workplace since the start of the industrial revolution becomes evident. We still remain profit- and productivity-driven, instead of being people-driven. This is as evident as it is shocking, worrying, upsetting, and, quite frankly, terrifying.”
This antiquated belief structure of optimising towards high yields over welfare persists in modern day corporations. We must identify what are the prevailing negative emotions at work, to then take meaningful action. For Rogers Jean De Dieu, practising “emotional awareness is crucial, yet how we act upon this emotional awareness is ultimately what builds an emotionally inclusive culture.
Putting our faith in leadership
We learn by reading Emotional Inclusion that we spend 81,396 hours at work. The only other thing we do more than that is sleep. A dysfunctional work environment can be detrimental to our well-being, and in many ways, to cultivate a healthy, safe workplace, the onus is on management and those in a position of leadership. Granted, it isn’t an easy space to tackle. Rogers Jean De Dieu views efforts such as sleeping apps and 24/7 hotlines as ‘crutches’, rather than a sustainable, robust solution to emotional inclusion. For her, a strategy could come down to organisational guidelines and strategic guidance tools to enhance the evaluation of emotional wellness in workplaces, but also the promotion of it too.
For instance, some companies have developed a ‘Mental Health at Work Index’ which assesses these corporations’ state of wellness–a barometer for mental health. CEOs have the capacity and responsibility of instilling an emotionally inclusive ecosystem from the top down, something that is heavily integrated into all Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion (DEI) programmes. Rogers Jean De Dieu is inspired by her own place of employment, Longchamp, thanks to its culture of ‘humanistic leadership’. In her eyes, ethical leadership shows characteristics like putting “their egos to the side to leave centre stage to humility, exercise curiosity and empathy” and are “makers of change” who are cognisant that “life exists beyond simply the demands of the workplaces.” What makes a good leader? What it ultimately comes down to is ‘intellectual humility.’
“The nucleus of solidarity is found through authentic, purposeful shared action. Solidarity occurs when employees unite around a value that strikes a chord with them.
Humanising the work
So how can we move away from the grind of the hamster wheel and move towards humanness at work? Rogers Jean De Dieu identifies the behaviours that are necessary to balance out burnout, remind us of joie de vivre and have emotional inclusion as a code of being. One of that being solidarity. “Solidarity is the binding glue amongst individuals in an organisation. It goes beyond promoting connections towards the company DNA. The nucleus of solidarity is found through authentic, purposeful shared action. Solidarity occurs when employees unite around a value that strikes a chord with them.” In short, it all begins with belonging.
When it comes to vulnerability, while it may not have been necessarily associated with C-suites and leadership in the past, encouraging showing up authentically at work does not equate to fragility, but rather a display of courage. Showcasing fallibility at an executive level can help allow subordinates to feel safe. When we talk of purpose, which is a by-product of emotional inclusion, employment can cultivate a sense of loyalty and meaningfulness if a personal sense of purpose is aligned with the company’s goals and direction. According to McKinsey research in the book, 70 per cent of employees said that their sense of purpose was defined by their work. To summarise, if emotional inclusion is to be a code of being, these aforementioned behaviours need to take place.
Knowing that we all have agency and that emotional inclusion is an action
For Rogers Jean De Dieu, when it comes to individual and collective action, it’s less about monologues but dialogues. Storytelling in the way of inclusion videos and mental health-centric campaigns can be a force for open communication around emotional wellness. So what is the framework for this? An honest revaluation of working conditions by employees is pivotal—if they feel comfortable to speak out, that the company actually cares for their wellbeing and so on.
How can we educate leaders who are the commanders of the organisation and have immense power over company culture? Implementing feedback and being accountable and transparent helps foster trust, which “should be a given, not earned.” Listening is also a powerful tool to avoid misunderstandings and assumptions. At the end of the day, “Emotional inclusion is how well we are made to feel when we reach the office. There is no quick fix to create an emotionally inclusive culture. It will take time and trial, but it is a worthy, meaningful, and much needed endeavour for humanity.”
Emotional Inclusion: A Humanizing Revolution at Work by Mollie Rogers Jean De Dieu is available now online and in selected retailers.