My clinical training sometimes leads me to make observations in the workplace that a typical HR professional might not see. This particular article discusses employee emotional health. I have spent years working with companies trying to deal effectively with emotionally unhealthy individuals and the havoc created by emotional outbursts and unrealistic expectations. Instead of talking about all the behaviors unhealthy folks exhibit, let discuss the positive behavior displayed by emotionally healthy individuals — how they handle challenges in the workplace.
Emotionally healthy and well-adjusted folks receive reinforcement for their sound conduct in the average workplace. Coworkers typically see them as good performers and loyal employees. Supervisors describe them as great workers. In my experience, these folks are not only more successful but also less stressed in the workplace.
1. They know who they are
Emotionally healthy people are introspective enough and have paid enough attention to feedback on their style, to have a realistic sense of their strengths and weaknesses. Ideally, these folks have had the motivation and opportunity to work on some of their weaknesses, especially in dealing with people so they’ve realized positive self-growth. In this way, they can believe in the positive change in others making them a strong candidate for leadership when combined with technical skill.
2. They don’t worry about whether people like them
While it is helpful if coworkers and leaders are well-liked by folks at work, it isn’t the most important thing. This is true especially in a negative or dysfunctional workplace. At the point just before organizational interventions and positive shifts, it is often the disliked individual who has the best ideas and the courage to put them out there. In a position of leadership, being well-liked could 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 keeps good professional boundaries will have a more objective view of staff performance and be able to offer suggestions for improvement.
3. They treat others with respect – golden rule
Someone who feels good about him/herself can feel comfortable giving others credit and treating others well. One of the things employees want most in the workplace is to be treated with respect. In a toxic workplace, it is a strong individual who can resist negative group behavior. When a respectful person has a disrespectful leader he/she can listen to the noise from above and then rather than pass that along, work with consideration when dealing with his/her own team. Those who strive to treat others with respect make great workplace role models.
4. They don’t have a need to over-control people
Hyper-control of people and things isn’t really productive at work. Sometimes people think that because they can manipulate others, that they can actually control them. But human beings do what they want most of the time. Even the most meek individual will naturally resist the control of over-controlling coworkers or supervisors. Sometimes folks can be controlled through fear but it doesn’t last. Comfort with a coworker’s unpredictable behavior helps prevent the typical overreaction and can also help them resist the negative manipulation of others.
5. They are comfortable communicating 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. This characteristic is associated with noticing when staff have success from their own actions and offering credit to people who did the work with modest support from their boss.
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 a bit paranoid!) While others give someone the benefit of the doubt as to motivation; remain calm and engage in a dialogue of what happened and how to help make it better. These folks don’t need everything to be perfect, they just expect others to do their best.
7. They manage their emotions at work
Healthy people do not impose their strong emotions on others in the workplace. They have patience and resist impulsive actions based upon fear or anger. They know their own emotions; they don’t judge them; and they are comfortable having them. This allows them to vent inevitable emotions in a confidential, safe and productive manner. 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 to them personally, can help a coworker anticipate which are the “hot button” issues. This allows good companies and good leaders to be careful and thoughtful when considering unpopular changes that must be made for sound business reasons. Finally, these folks understand that just because someone has a negative reaction to their idea, doesn’t make it a bad idea. Staying detached from coworker overreactions is helpful in today’s stressful workplace.
9. They are comfortable with their role in the workplace
These folks know the difference between their personal needs and the company’s goals or mission. There are a number of personal needs employers must attend to like paid time off and such but no company can meet every employee need. There is a compensated agreement – the average employee produces a reasonably good end result and the company rewards this monetarily and otherwise. I find that when recruitment candidates want a new employer to “make them whole,” this can miss the point of the mission, goals, culture and finances of the company.
10. They are relatively satisfied with 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 through unrealistic salary increases, promotions or office environments. 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 generally feel intrinsic reward when doing your best and achieving company goals. You also appreciate fair, reasonable treatment and compensation.
It is acknowledged that some of the qualities described here are very hard to maintain when the workplace is toxic or dysfunctional. If an emotionally healthy employee finds him/herself in a toxic workplace, strength of character will hopefully and eventually lead them to find a new position in a healthier workplace.
Orignally published in 2016 – updates Sept 2020.