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Coping With The Emotional Economy

The fact of the matter is that you have to get along with people in order to remain employed.

But you knew this already; you knew that as much as we exist in a knowledge economy we also exist in a collaboration economy, a service economy, an economy where brands are differentiated by the emotional labor geared toward making the customer feel special.

For the sake of efficiency, perhaps we should simply admit that we live in an emotion economy and be done with it.

I was talking to someone the other day who has impeccable credentials. But they were well-aware that credentials are not enough. They needed leadership skills, management skills, but even more than that they needed a mentor and a professional network.

The ability to build and maintain such a network, both at your job and outside of it, is an insurance policy for your professional brand. It is the basis upon which you will get referrals and references. But more importantly, it is the cornerstone of your ability to maintain your employment once hired.

You have to get along with people. But it is more than that. From a psychological point of view, now more than ever it is critical to maintain strong boundaries between your professional self and your personal self. This is because you will be called upon to project friendship with other people only for the sake of your job. This is an inherently unhealthy situation, as you should be able to keep your personal, personal and your job situation purely about the job. But in an emotion economy, that has frankly become impossible.

You will also need to maintain your professionalism even in a work environment where people frequently engage in dating and marital relationships with the same people they work with. This is a tricky situation, first, because you do not want to become a victim of sexual harassment by someone who lacks appropriate boundaries or who uses the workplace — particularly their power in the workplace — to serially engage in personal relationships. Second, when you’re dealing with a particular individual, you may not understand that the person is emotionally connected with other people at work in ways that have nothing to do with actually getting work done. Navigating those relationships is a very real minefield.

All of this, of course, ignores the very real ethical issues that an emotional economy brings up. Is it really fair of an employer, or of colleagues, to expect you to be their “friends” as the cost of working with you shoulder-to-shoulder? What about the fact that some people prefer to work in this way, while others find it deeply disconcerting? How can we create a profitable, inclusive, moral workplace that is consistently engaged in “building the brand” without impinging on the privacy of its employees?

We live in a day and age where the definition of “work” is rapidly changing. If we are to be maximally productive, we need to understand how that evolution is affecting the psychological health of our employees.


All opinions my own.

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