This article discusses employee emotional health in general terms. I’ve worked with companies who are challenged by emotionally unhealthy individuals. The havoc created by emotional outbursts, hystrionics or abusive behavior is both distracting and destructive. Let’s shift the discussion to the positive behavior displayed by emotionally healthy individuals — how they handle challenges in the workplace.
Emotionally healthy and well-adjusted folks typically receive reinforcement for the way they work. Coworkers see them as good performers and loyal colleagues. Supervisors describe them as great workers. In my experience, these folks are not only more successful but also less stressed in the workplace. Stressed out colleagues go to them for advice.
1. They know who they are
Emotionally healthy people are introspective and have taken feedback on board. They understand their style and have a realistic sense of their strengths and weaknesses. These folks have the motivation to work on some of their weaknesses, especially dealing with people. They’ve taken advantage of the opportunity for positive self-growth. They believe in the possibility of positive change in others, making them a strong candidate for leadership.
2. They don’t overly worry about whether people like them
Being likable and worrying about being liked are not the same thing. Working to make your team like you tends to lead to problems down the road. Pleasing others isn’t the most important thing. Healthy employees are more likely to speak up when needed and set boundaries when others cross the line. If you’re worried about getting everyone to like you, you won’t set boundaries as needed. This is true especially in a negative or dysfunctional workplace. In a position of leadership, being well-liked might be an indicator of success if, all the staff members are high performing, self-aware people! For a leader working with a poor performing or poorly motivated group, someone who is willing to hold staff accountable will have a better chance of making improvements over time.
3. They treat others with respect
Healthy employees treat others with respect; they want to be treated with respect; and require it from team members. In a toxic workplace, it’s a strong individual who can resist negative group behavior. When a respectful person has a disrespectful leader they can listen to the noise from above and, rather than pass it along to their own teams, promote respect among their team members. Those who strive to treat others with respect make great workplace role models for positive culture.
4. They don’t have a need to over-control people
Too much controlling behavior toward people and things isn’t really productive at work. Sometimes people think that because they can manipulate others, they can actually control them. But human beings do what they want most of the time. Most will naturally resist the coercion of over-controlling coworkers or supervisors. Sometimes folks can be controlled through threats and fears, but it doesn’t last and it builds to significant resentment. Being comfortable with a coworker’s reasonable self-directed behavior helps prevent overreaction that stifles independent thinking.
5. They’re comfortable providing expectations and letting go
Especially in leaders, a comfort level with providing clear goals and allowing employees to shine is good delegation. Providing well-timed guidance along the way is key to allowing staff to grow and improve. Healthy people can notice when staff have success from their own actions and offer them credit.
6. They have realistic expectations of the company
Having realistic expectations of your boss or workplace is incredibly healthy as well as practical. Even the best workplace includes mistakes and misunderstandings. The key is how someone reacts to them. Some employees withdraw and assume everything is directed at taking advantage of them (sometimes true, sometimes paranoid!) While others can give the company the benefit of the doubt as to motivation; remain calm and engage in a dialogue of how to make it better. These folks don’t need everything to be perfect, they just expect the company to be reasonable.
7. They manage their emotions at work
Healthy people do not vent their strong emotions onto others in the workplace. They have patience and resist impulsive actions based upon fear or anger. They know their own emotions and have the ability to keep them under reasonable control. This allows them to vent inevitable emotions in a confidential and productive manner whether to a friend; therapist or a trusted colleague at work. This is related to not blaming others in anger, for their own mistakes.
8. They accurately identify and accept emotions in others
This is helpful since no workplace is devoid of emotion. Understanding and accepting that people have feelings about what happens at work, especially when it happens to them personally, can help a coworker anticipate emotional reactions to things. This prompts good leaders to be careful and thoughtful when considering unpopular changes required for sound business reasons. Finally, these folks understand that just because someone has a negative reaction to their idea, doesn’t necessarily make it a bad idea. Staying detached from coworker overreactions is helpful in today’s stressful workplace.
9. They are generous to others
Because healthy employees feel reasonably good about themselves, they are comfortable allowing others to shine. Healthy employees are less likely to be focused on getting affirmation from others because they know who they are and are comfortable with themselves. Contrast this with a coworker who takes credit for other people’s work. Healthy employees will take a very dim view of such behavior. They allow employees to shine and genuinely enjoy seeing others do well.
10. They take satisfaction in what they’ve achieved
The best way to articulate this quality is to picture the person who is insecure and wants out-sized, external reinforcement of their worth. They want unrealistic salary increases, promotions or showy office workstations. There is nothing wrong with consistent and fair rewards for performance but an employee who is contributing less and wanting more creates a tough dilemma for any company. If you are happy with who you are and what you’ve achieved, you will naturally recieve promotions based on merit. You are more likely to appreciate the intrinsic reward of doing your best and achieving company goals. They appreciate fair, reasonable treatment and compensation.
Acknowledgement – some of the qualities described here are very hard to maintain when the workplace is dysfunctional. If an emotionally healthy employee finds themself surrounded by unhealthy dynamics, strength of character will likely lead them to a healthier workplace.
Originally published 2018 – updated March 2023 (c) All rights reserved