Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 11.10.24 amFrom the Desk of Nick Mills

We spend a lot of time at work. And with increasing expectations to become and remain productive, it’s no wonder we feel stressed about our jobs. There are things you can do as a leader to build emotional intelligence into ‘the bones’ of your organisation  and relieve some of this unnecessary anxiety.


Emotional Intelligence (EI) doesn’t only have to do with individuals, but it also plays an important role in organisational culture. New studies from Stanford and Harvard reveal that workplace stress is as much of a factor in poor health as smoking — and much of this stress is tied to workplace culture. Where you work and how you are managed has a huge influence on your health.

In a recent interview with Norman Swan for the ABC, Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor of organisational behaviour at Stanford University, says that “…people spend a lot of their time at work, and the work is consequential for their social identity, and work is where a lot of stress happens.” Even though great strides have been made getting the message across that we should eat well, drink less, and get enough sleep and exercise, when we are stressed, this improved behaviour goes out the window.

Pfeffer’s answer? He recommends more economic stability and more job assurance. Also, don’t expect people to work long hours to prove their worth. After a full day, they are unlikely to be very productive anyway, so ensure that they feel they are “allowed to go home”. Whenever possible, give people autonomy. Flexibility over what they work on and when can make a huge difference. All of these make sense and seem simple to do. Why, then, do we struggle with creating a positive workplace culture?

In fact, there are plenty of companies who understand this and who take an active role in creating a healthy, balanced, emotionally intelligent environment for their employees. Atlasssian, the company that was named the best place to work in Australia for two years running and the second best medium-sized workplace in the United States, is a great example. Scott Farquhar, one of the company founders, along with Mike Cannon-Brookes, says that while values are a part of the company that never changes, culture is the environment in which work gets done, and naturally evolves as a company grows.

And the most important ingredient of a company’s culture are its employees, which is why it’s important to manage hiring practices as a startup grows. They understand that each one of us trails an ‘emotional wake’ that can affect everyone we come in contact with. Hiring the wrong people — or even the wrong person — can negatively affect the environment. All too often, this has a cascading effect and, after awhile, the entire workplace culture is unhealthy.

Atlassian’s answer was to interview for qualities, character attributes, and personality styles. Of course, they looked for the proper training, skills, and experience, but if someone comes in with the ideal CV and does not have the desired ‘emotional intelligence skill set’, they will not be hired.

“We have a lot of customers from a lot of different types of companies and often we get (asked) ‘It’s great that you have these values but I can’t change my X’ and I always say, you can change the people around you,” Cannon-Brookes says.

“You don’t have to have values for a company. They can be a team, department, office, anything right. I think the act of getting a group of people together and sitting down and saying ‘ what do we stand for’ and ‘what do we not want to lose’ is more important than ‘what do we want to be?’

“The other thing we that we didn’t write down that we were very clear on at the start is that we didn’t want to have basic human values [on the list], like honesty, integrity, those sorts of things, those should be inherent or assumed. Otherwise you end up with a set of platitudes that aren’t useful or instructive to people in any way shape or form.”

This formula has been successful for Atlassian. They seemed to have found the right balance in creating what is known as an exemplary emotionally intelligent organisation. Think about your workplace. Can you find areas where the workplace culture is impacting negatively on employees, creating unnecessary stress? How might you institute changes that will make a real difference and give Atlassian a run for its money?



Watch this great video of Atlasssian’s culture: