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How to deal with generation gaps and emotional needs at work

Bosses are obsessed about quantifiable impact – how much of your output can be translated into revenue by the hour and so on. But have they overlooked that by addressing individual elements such as generation gaps and emotional needs at work, it could lead to better productivity?  

Emotion seems to be a heinous word that has no place in the work environment. Show anything less than a poker face is as though you have already been dealt an unfavourable deck of cards by the croupier. The inability to inhibit outwardly emotions is a sign of weakness bound to be scorned or worse exploited. Endure in silence you must.  

Over time as pressure compounds, eventually reaching the tipping point where the lid can no longer contain the resentment, frustration piling up within, you slip in a resignation letter in an admission of defeat, and looms a painful exit.  

Nen Lin Soo, founder of Shenenigains
Nen Lin Soo, founder of Shenenigains (Photo: her own)

Must emotion be loathed and decried with such disdain? Nen Lin Soo, a personal coach and founder of personal growth platform Shenenigains, sheds light on emotional needs at work and what organisations can undertake to take care of employees’ psychological wellbeing. 

“A common occurrence I see in company cultures is that employees are discouraged to show their emotions, for fear that they will appear weak and unprofessional,” she says.  

“However, there is a clear distinction between one, expressing your emotional needs at work to help you be a productive employee or co-worker, and two, expressing yourself emotionally in a way that negatively impacts the wellbeing of those that work with you.” 

To recognise there are a multitude of factors influencing an employee’s mental wellbeing, Nen says, conductive systems must be put in place to encourage the act of speaking out without fear of retribution. She cites her current employer, Forest Interactive, as an example.  

At the telecommunications company, staff can make an appointment for a confidential one-to-one session with the People Operations department to openly address any issue they may be facing. A consultation form is offered to employees, ensuring that they don’t have to go through immediate supervisors and circumventing the possibility of reprisals.  

To foster team spirit, large organisations often have a framework in place for departments to organise team building and some even go as far as employing in-house counsellors. “One of the biggest factors of making initiatives like this a success is that these initiatives need to be built on a culture of flexibility,” Nen explains. 

team building
(Photo: Annie Spratt on Unsplash)

What does she mean by flexibility? It means by not making these activities mandatory as participation is more often than not compulsory. How do organisations then ensure attendance? 

“But if that’s a worry the organisation has, then they have to address the bigger problem,” Nen says. “They need to be reassessing everyday team dynamics and hearing out their own employees – understand why being around their co-workers is not a desired activity, what about the programme that doesn’t drive excitement, etc. 

“Some organisations fail to recognise the compounding impact of occurrences that affect an employee’s emotional wellbeing.” 

A survey is a helpful tool which can be used to gauge employees’ needs and what they feel are lacking. Nen draws parallels between customer experience and employee experience. “This means getting feedback from your employees, listening to their suggestions and making the necessary changes, and organising events that actually make both you and your employees happy.”

What are the signs of imminent burn-out or break-down? What preventive measures can employers and employees take?

When you say you care for your employee and you want to hear them out, mean it! Employees can sense if you’re disingenuous. If you’re distant for most of your working relationship and only reach out when you sense trouble is brewing, employees may not open up to you as easily. 

No matter how big the team is, 1:1s are still important! Whether it’s biweekly, monthly, or quarterly – whatever works for your team’s schedule and what keeps your employee sane – this is a manager’s opportunity to build that safe space with their team. 

In my team, we use these 1:1s to talk about anything and everything – if they want to reach out for help regarding work and share what’s making them overwhelmed, sure, this could be an avenue for us to make adjustments and talk solutions; if they just want to talk about an interesting Netflix show they watched last weekend or recommend a good eatery in town, we have fun doing it during the 1:1! 

Most importantly, we want to build that relationship that shows that we care, and not just because they deliver results for the company. We may think we know what’s best for them, but we should always ask them what their thoughts are about what we want to do, to see whether it actually helps them or not.


personal coaching
(Photo: KOBU Agency on Unsplash)
Observations are often made about generational gaps within an organisation. Should employers pay more attention to the psychological needs of younger employees, especially the new entrants into the workforce?

It’s easy for someone to label younger employees according to their “generation”, e.g. Gen Z, millennials, etc. but that stereotype is harmful and actually stops managers from actually connecting with new, younger additions to the team. 

A mark of a great leader is their willingness to carve out time to listen to anyone from the organisation who wants to raise an idea or a concern. 

A culture of open communication is successful when the leaders of your organisation are open to admitting they don’t know everything and welcome ideas from newer, younger employees. Our management team is often game to support initiatives that have never been done before, as long as an employee makes his or her case of how their ideas align with the company’s goals – directly or indirectly. 

Once younger employees see that they can make a difference, they will feel empowered to take charge of their own ideas – big or small – and play an important part in helping your organisation grow.

Speaking about one's mental health condition remains a taboo. What can anyone do to be more receptive, empathetic and supportive?

Lead with authenticity and show that you care. With genuine actions, come genuine conversations. We all have different working styles, and working from home, especially during a pandemic, requires a different set of approaches. 

If you’re a leader and feeling overwhelmed, it’s okay to show your vulnerability once in a while. Reinforce with your team that it’s normal to not always feel 100%, and show them what you do to make things okay again. 

Empathy is so important. Never jump to conclusions. Understand that there are off days – but that does not directly mean that they’re being ineffective. 

Lastly, if you have the capacity as an organisation, commemorate Mental Health Awareness Day and Month. Do it for your talents, based on what they would need the most. Mental health coverage and sick days (without requiring MC) will also go a long way.

Justin Ng
Digital Content Director, Kuala Lumpur
Often think of myself as a journalist and so I delve deeper into a range of topics. Talk to me about current affairs, watches, travel, drinks, new experiences and more importantly, the business, economics and dynamics behind it.
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