Why American Leaders Don’t Care about Happiness at Work

emotions matter

My son just starred as the credits rolled. It wasn’t the reaction that I was hoping for. I wiped away a tear and whispered in his ear.

What did you think?

Nothing. He just sat there, staring straight ahead.

He’s five and got up on my lap in the beginning of the movie. He barely twitched for an hour and forty minutes.

The movie definitely interested him, but he just wasn’t sure what to make of it.

We watched Inside Out. A movie about a young girls emotions as she dealt with moving from Minnesota to San Fransisco.

It was a look at the emotions inside this girl’s head and the struggles that all eleven year olds go through. The main character (emotion) inside her, Joy, struggle with letting sadness be a part of her emotional spectrum.

It was a cool visualization of how many of us deal with our emotions.

We’re afraid of them.

Their messy.

Especially at work.

This was very true as I talked with my Aunt who is a small business owner. She took me out to lunch and asked me about my businesses.

I explained how my UX (User Experience) company, Domino Connection, was growing very fast for only being me. I told her how I branched out into A/B testing website, so I could help my clients create base markers to measure from so they could increase leads and sales. She was fascinated.

I then shared how I used a lot of the stuff from Work Happy Now to help my clients like helping them create feedback loops, developing core values to use in the workplace, and measuring people’s happiness (satisfaction) at work.

I started to lose her.

I tried to bring her back, but I felt the push back about measuring happiness.

I’ve seen this again and again from American leaders at work.

Don’t get me wrong. My aunt has a lot of happiness ideas in place for her employees. She tries very hard to make employees feel listened to and appreciated. She buys them lunch when they work weekends. She pays 100% for their healthcare.

There are a lot of perks, but she also makes a lot of mistakes. Which she’ll also admit. There are no perfect leaders.

As I tried to bring her back to the idea of measuring happiness and improving her feedback loop she explained how she already did a lot of this and didn’t really need to improve it.

I paused and thought about a conversation that I had with a potential client around creating happiness measurement markers in their company.

You can’t improve what you don’t measure.

I created the Work Happy Now Emergency Kit – Break in case of stress overload. Leaders, like my aunt, can bring a more positive experiences into the workplace and improve engagement if they have help.

It was the same conversation all over again.

Americans don’t like dealing with emotions in the workplace. We don’t want to deal with sadness, anger, and even happiness.

We have a hard enough time accepting our own thoughts and emotions, dealing with other people’s emotions just gets harder.

Does it mean we should ignore emotions in the workplace because it’s hard?


Let me ask you:

How often do you celebrate at work?

Not just closing a big client or someone’s birthday. Which of course is good to do, but celebrating a team’s hard work.

Just sharing a proud moment even if it didn’t work out. Taking a moment to celebrate someone’s hard work shows them that you are listening. That you notice how hard they are working. It’s this appreciation that can make an employee’s week.

It’s not just Americans that struggle with emotions in the workplace. Germans, Brits, and Japanese people struggle with emotions too.

We are afraid to admit we are tired, stressed, frustrated. We push these emotions down and take it out on our families, which isn’t fair.

That’s why measuring people’s emotional states is important. We can see patterns in the joy and the struggle. We can use these patterns to help make better choices for the company to retain people who are thinking about leaving the company or improve how people view their experience at work.

Is it perfect? Nope. Science isn’t perfect. It gets even messier with trying to measure feelings. It’s about doing our best to improve upon our experiences so we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed out, and cause more damage to ourselves or other people. It’s also about being happier because if we aren’t happy at work we don’t have good results.

The point of life is happiness. – The Dalai Lama

Asking for feedback from employees on a regular basis is just one listening tool that you can use to help increase happiness.

This is where it gets tough for many leaders…They first have to admit that they aren’t perfect and they need help. That they don’t always listen as well as they should or believe that they are.

Are American leaders afraid of the answers that they will get if they ask how happy their employees are at work? Maybe they’re afraid of getting too much feedback or not enough.

So I ask you…

Why do you think Americans so afraid of emotions at work? Do you see it similar to me or from a different perspective?

I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section in the article.

If you need help retaining your best employees and improving your listening tools, so they feel heard. Just let me know and we’ll set up a consultation.

5 thoughts on “Why American Leaders Don’t Care about Happiness at Work”

  1. showing emotion at work would be admitting that you are
    1 – Human, 2 – vulnerable, 3 – not “strong” like most people envision their leaders to be. Being a leader is tough and it has been taught to us that being a leader means you don’t show emotion – “never let them see you sweat”. Crying a work can begin the ultimate downward spiral. You can lose the confidence of many by showing emotion. Not having control of your emotions is viewed as a weakness. Do I agree? No. But the stigma is already there.

  2. Karl Staib - WHN Author and Speaker

    Hi Geri! Very good points. Americans have been trained to see many signs of emotion as weakness. It’s a shame that we push emotions down because we’re afraid of how others will view us. I think the tide is turning, very slowly. Many small business owners that I buy from show emotion. I like that they share their failures and let me understand why they make choices. It allows me to trust them more.

  3. Very interesting post. What are some tangible ways for an entry-level employee to impact company culture?

  4. Karl Staib - WHN Author and Speaker

    Hi Kevin! I would suggest starting with your own happiness first and once you are in a good place then focus on your co-workers. You could start a regular happy hour event or a pot-luck. The ideas is to get people to know each other better. The more friends people have at work the happier they will be.

  5. Hello my darlin’ nephew!
    Thoroughly enjoyed reading your post – and YES! You nailed me to a “T” !
    I would like to attempt to more fully explain my position on employee relations and exchanges in the work place. When I first started McCarthy Print, I was convinced that I would be able to create a culture that was healthy, productive, rewarding both professionally and personally, and above all . . . Be known as the best darn print shop in these parts!
    Well – I struggled for years trying to define the proverbial “balance” between an open door policy with employees and a more structured “take a number please”. After 18 years in business I ended up with is this – . . . You can’t change a persons hard wiring- whether or not they are a “head down all day” long person, or if they are an asshole, or if they are a saint sent from heaven . . . They are hard wired to be exactly who they are – Sooooo, I quite coaching the assholes and fired them, I notched up on the reinforcement of the “head down all day” person by calling them into my office and complimenting them on their consistent excellent work ethic, and I put the saint from heaven into outside sales making a huge commission!
    The “exchange” between all persons coming together for one common cause (keeping McCarthy Print productive and profitable) is a culture that requires continual observation and interaction by managers and leaders. NOT to be mistaken for micro-managing – micro-mansging sucks –
    Okay, okay. I will stop my rambling and get back to work –
    Bottom line, I am so excited about your business ventures and so VERY proud of you in your professional and personal growth – your perceptions and cleansing philosophy will benefit many of us as we go down this road called life.
    Rock on Rock Star!!! XO

Comments are closed.