Chad Brinsfield headshot.

Outside Consultant: Why Is Self-awareness and Caring for Others Important in the Workplace?

This "Outside Consultant" column by Chad Brinsfield, PhD, an associate professor and chair of the Management Department at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business, ran in the Star Tribune on April 4, 2022.

When I was in college, we had classes on leading others, but we didn’t have classes on leading ourselves. This came through to me when I listened to Amy Langer, the co-owner and co-founder of professional services firm Salo. There’s so much uncertainty and stress in navigating the start-up space; she didn’t take a salary for several years, and often you’re personally liable for loans, etc., so you can’t just walk away. People don’t appreciate how difficult that can be and what it takes to manage oneself effectively.

Managers in corporate environments are experiencing high stress levels too; it’s not just entrepreneurs. People are burning out. How do you manage yourself and stay grounded during all of that? Emotional intelligence and emotional agility, which have been talked about a lot, are critically important. The human side of the equation is vital. Stress and anxiety are shape-shifters – they often disguise themselves in bad habits we develop in an attempt to escape negative emotions.

We had a pandemic and the murder of George Floyd. Just when we are starting to come out of that, war breaks out in Europe. All of these factors, plus the economic difficulty that many people are facing, reinforce the need to put the well-being of employees as the priority. We must make caring for others and employee wellness a team sport. It’s needed for our long-term success. How can you have a healthy society if you don’t have healthy work?

Many companies use terms like human capital, human assets and human resources – I don’t like these terms. This terminology makes it all too easy to view people as fungible assets rather than as human beings. More and more we’re recognizing that it not only matters what you accomplish, but how you accomplish it. Many of my students who work for major corporations here in the Twin Cities are under so much stress. They’re working 60 hours a week and are unable to balance their family obligations. That’s creating some very negative externalities for our society.

I am cautiously optimistic, however. Information flows much more readily in today’s world. Companies that don’t prioritize their people will likely be at an ever greater disadvantage when it comes to attracting the best people. 

Chad T. Brinsfield, PhD, is an associate professor and chair of the Management Department at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.