In the past year, we’ve learned to what extent the mental health of an employee can affect their productivity. If one of the first signals of a bad workplace environment is employee burnout, then one of the first signals of employee burnout (or deteriorating mental health) is their emotions in the workplace.
The emotion wheel was created by Psychologist Robert Plutchik to identify basic emotions: anger, anticipation, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, surprise, and trust. Each primary emotion is organized based on the psychological purpose of each, along with showcasing their opposites. Advanced emotion wheels offer more specific, secondary feelings. Ultimately, the emotion wheel is used to recognize and communicate feelings.
Emotion Wheels In The Workplace
Psychologist Cynthia Halow explains: “The emotion wheel can be used in the workplace to help employees harness their emotions rather than suppressing them. If that energy is channeled effectively, employees will have better morale and better productivity rates.” Employees can examine their own emotions for less than three minutes by taking an emotional wheel break before or after meetings. By even visualizing the emotion wheel it can help an employee slow down, think more clearly and objectively, be more self-aware and focused, diplomatic and emotionally intelligent.
Forbes Coaches Council member, Career Coach, and Hiring Manager Irene McConnell adds that managers can encourage employees to use the emotion wheel to understand their feelings. “This can help them learn what is the reason behind demotivation and poor productivity or performance. Once they understand, they can consult a professional, or the organization can hire one for them to work towards the solution and better mental health.”
Another benefit mentioned: if managers track people’s daily word from the wheel, they can often see larger trends with how that team member is doing. For example, if a person regularly uses words from the wheel that align with bad, fearful, angry, disgusted, and sad feelings, a dedicated check-in is needed with that employee. They might be disengaged, not in the right seat, or considering leaving the organization.
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It can help the entire team regulate, reflect, understand and convert their emotions in real-time. Emotion wheels are incredibly useful in a group setting where employees are asked to work out a dilemma or decision-making process. When used correctly, teams become more emotionally intelligent and can perform better when faced with challenging tasks.
Relevant Workplace Examples
Overall, Halow recommends managers interested in using emotional wheels at work to improve performance should:
• Find out the core emotion.
• Understand the reason for that emotion.
• Make connections between the emotions.
• Take action to make the emotion or feeling go away.
Managers handling a high-stakes project may for example share their own emotions, allowing others to pay attention to theirs. “You might say for example ‘I am thrilled that we were given the chance to develop this project and at the same time I feel the pressure that this puts on our team. Or you may ask – tell me something you’re feeling positive about and something you’re worried about regarding this deliverable.”
Managers who encourage 2-3 minute long emotion wheel breaks or check-ins during one-on-ones provide them and the employee with an opportunity to recharge, which ultimately leads to increased productivity and lower turnover. In addition, managers can then substitute tasks on the team member’s desk that make the employee feel positive to boost their productivity and creativity.
Avital: Tours uses the emotion wheel as part of their daily morning huddle. “Everyone comes together first thing in the morning and picks from the wheel to describe how we are feeling that day,” explains a team member. “As a corporate tool, it allows our teammates to let each other know what we are coming into the workday with, and adjust the way we engage together. If someone is feeling frustrated, that allows us to check in with each other and move forward with compassion.”
Other Important Considerations
Psychologist Dr. Marie-Helene Pelletier, PhD, MBA often finds that naming emotions is not easy for people. “Many people are not used to paying attention to their feelings so putting a name on an emotion is easier if they see a list of feelings, whether this is an actual list in column format or a circular representation such as a wheel.”
In the workplace, Pelletier finds emotion wheels open the door for emotional literacy. According to Pelletier, emotional literacy is the ability for everyone, both at work and in our personal life, to be aware of our emotions. It allows us to read how we are doing and understand ourselves. “Our emotions are part of our experience, along with thoughts and behaviors. If we are not aware of them, they’ll still have an influence but we won’t be aware of it, which sometimes leads to behaviors that are not aligned with what we wish we would have done.”
Pelletier emphasizes the importance of the conversation, not the emotion wheel itself. “One important aspect is to let people make their own decisions about if they want to be involved, when and how, as opposed to ‘pushing’ everyone to ‘name their emotion now’,” she adds. Another point: keep in mind that the emotion that one may have at any given moment at work may be influenced by many other aspects of their life, some of which may be personal to them.
Pelletier also warns employees and managers to consider their emotions, understanding that having awareness of them may not mean sharing all of them. “The workplace and a therapy session are not the same contexts. There are goals and rules in a workplace that require a level of self-regulation, and some emotions may be best explored and processed outside of the work context.”
The emotions exhibited in the workplace either support or detract from the corporate culture. A good environment where everyone feels heard and seen can be a powerful intrinsic motivator and make employees more loyal and dedicated to the company. Recognition of emotions- our own and those of others- can lead to compassion and empathy, which are characteristics of strong leaders. The recognition also contributes to a psychologically safe and healthy workplace.
It is the culture- the relationships within a team- that allows a business to hit core objectives. Using an emotion wheel in the workplace can help team members increase team resiliency and communicate how they feel about the corporate culture.