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Emotions That Are Undervalued in the Workplace

In most professional settings, rational, analytical thinking is rightly valued. However, an overemphasis on logic and detachment can overlook the important role of emotions in organizational leadership and culture. Research suggests a more balanced, emotionally intelligent approach may lead to greater employee engagement, productivity, and innovation (Gohm et al., 2005).

Today we will explore specific emotions that tend to be undervalued—empathy, enthusiasm, vulnerability, and joy and how fostering an emotionally aware culture can benefit organizations.

Empathy is the Foundation for Teamwork

Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, underpins many interpersonal skills valued in the workplace such as active listening, conflict resolution, and customer service (Gooty et al., 2010). Yet empathy is often overlooked. Research shows empathetic leaders improve team cohesion, cooperation, and performance (Mayer et al., 2008). Empathy allows leaders to see issues from others' perspectives, motivating teams through challenge (Jazaieri et al., 2013).

Health care provides an example. Empathetic doctors build trust with patients, facilitating open communication and adherence to treatment (Halpern, 2003). One hospital found employees scoring highest in empathy had fewer patient complaints and higher patient satisfaction ratings (Kane et al., 2007). Similarly, empathetic customer service representatives increase loyalty and sales (Stock & Hoyer, 2005).

Leaders can cultivate empathy through active listening exercises, role playing to understand different viewpoints, and transparent dialogue about challenges faced by teammates. Fostering company cultures that value understanding others also encourages empathy's expression.

Enthusiasm Sparks Creativity and Motivation

While passion is difficult to mandate, research links enthusiasm to positive organizational outcomes like innovation, motivation, and job satisfaction (Baas et al., 2008). As with physicality, "catching" another's enthusiasm is contagious—when leaders demonstrate sincere interest in goals and people, it rubs off.

Silicon Valley provides an example. Enthusiastic founders like Steve Jobs inspired employees with compelling visions that motivated long hours solving difficult problems (Isaacson, 2011). At gaming company Valve, flat hierarchies and employee autonomy foster intrinsic motivation through enthusiasm for work (Purchese, 2012). When leaders share enthusiasm, it encourages autonomy, creativity, and risk-taking.

Leaders can role model enthusiasm though sharing genuine interests to deepen engagement. Providing autonomy over goals while acknowledging efforts sustains enthusiasm. Regular "appreciation circles" allow sharing enthusiasm to motivate others.

Vulnerability Boosts Learning and Trust

While vulnerability seems risky, research shows its importance for building trust and learning from mistakes (Brown, 2012). When leaders admit limitations and solicit feedback without defensiveness, it signals humanness that encourages open feedback crucial for growth. Vulnerable dialogue about challenges faced and overcome can motivate others facing adversity (Williams, 2008).

In education, a principal acknowledging difficulties retaining math teachers through vulnerable discussion improved staff cohesion and brainstorming of solutions (Beatty, 2007). In marketing, the Dove campaign portraying “real beauty” through CEO vulnerability resonated with consumers and increased trust in the brand’s mission (Bick, 2010).

Leaders can model vulnerability through honestly sharing challenges and lessons learned from failures. Listening without judgment encourages others’ vulnerability, improving relationships and learning. Regular feedback sessions where criticism is welcomed, not avoided, builds trusting cultures where people feel safe to learn.

Joy Uplifts Work Engagement

While work is not (and should not be) all fun, research links joy—taking delight in one's work—to higher engagement, innovation and satisfaction (Prilla et al., 2014). Yet joy is often considered incompatible with professional duty. However, joy sparks flow—full immersion and presence—conducive to high performance (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). Leaders who express delight in their work through lighthearted enthusiasm are energizing.

Some famous innovators chased joy through their work. Walt Disney delighted in creating magic for guests (Watts, 1997). Herb Kelleher kept Southwest Airlines feeling “like a family” through joyful antics that lightened stressful work (Freiberg & Freiberg, 1996). Small gestures like handwritten birthday cards or pleasant lunchroom interactions can spread joy.

Leaders can incorporate joy through creativity such as humor, playfulness and festivity into routine tasks. Forming strong trusting relationships with teammates provides shared joy. Focusing on intrinsic rewards through delivering value, not just credentials, fuels joy at work.

Cultivating Emotional Intelligence

To cultivate these undervalued emotions, leaders must reflect on developing their own emotional intelligence through skills such as self-awareness, social awareness, relationship management, and self-regulation (Goleman, 1995). Regular reflection through journaling builds understanding of how one's emotions impact others. Seeking candid feedback aids self-awareness. During interactions, noticing nonverbal emotional cues through active listening aids social awareness.

Meditation enhances self-regulation to remain calm under pressure, expressive of deep emotions (Goleman & Davidson, 2017). Developing emotional vocabulary expands capacity to identify feelings, discuss them helpfully. Mindfulness strengthens focus enabling full presence when engaged with others. Leaders modeling this journey signal openness that builds trust and motivates others to develop their own emotional skills.


While logic remains vital in professional contexts, an overreliance risks undermining the importance of emotions in cultivating healthy workplace relationships and cultures that support innovation, creativity, and job satisfaction. Leaders who examine emotions undervalued in their industries and consciously cultivate empathy, enthusiasm, vulnerability and joy through self-reflection and community building will see benefits to employee engagement, cooperation and performance. Developing emotional intelligence should be an ongoing leadership development priority supporting organizational success.

We examined key emotions shown through research to contribute positively to workplace culture when acknowledged and intentionally fostered- empathy, enthusiasm, vulnerability, and joy. Supported by theories of emotional intelligence and specific industry examples, practical strategies demonstrated how organizational leaders can cultivate these emotions through self-reflection, modeling, and community building to reap benefits of improved cooperation, satisfaction, innovation and performance. Overall an effort to value the role of emotions can strengthen leadership effectiveness and organizational health when balanced with logic in a thoughtful, nuanced way.


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Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.



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