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Our Women in IP community hosted their final coffee date of 2020 on Tuesday 1 December. Co-organiser Emily Teesdale, from the Women in IP committee, reports on some fascinating – and heart-warming – discussions.

Emily writes:

On Tuesday last week, we had our final virtual “Women in IP” coffee chat of the year. This time, we held it in the morning and the theme was “Emotions in the Workplace”.

We had 10 different Zoom calls, with around 100 participants. We were especially happy to see some men join the calls and it was great to hear their thoughts on this theme, too. These chats are, of course, always open to all genders.

A screenshot of one of the London calls

 

We discussed three specific questions:

1) Have you experienced difficult emotions at work, either as a result of work or otherwise? How did you deal with them? What tips do you have?

2) Much has been written about the different value judgments that are made about men and women showing the same emotions. Have you observed this or experienced it yourself?

3) Has our remote working situation made it easier or harder to deal with emotions at work? Has it brought us together more?

Some of the thoughts and insights on the three questions we had were (in no particular order):

1) Have you experienced difficult emotions at work, either as a result of work or otherwise? How did you deal with them? What tips do you have?

There was a general acknowledgement across the different groups that most people, if not everyone, had experienced difficult emotions at work; either because of work, otherwise, or both. The key is to talk about it and for the person on the receiving end to just listen and consider the matter. There is not a one-size fits all approach to dealing with emotions; it depends on the person.

One group discussed the importance of workplaces having procedures in place for people to speak to, such as mental health first aiders, but more often than not if someone is having a hard time they will speak to a colleague they know best. It is important to get the message across and educate people that showing emotions is not a sign of weakness and there will not be a consequence for sharing your emotions. Generally, everyone in senior positions agreed that they would want to know what is going on if someone in their team was having a bad day.

This was re-iterated in another group by the patent trainees on the call – they found it was often very helpful to let their supervisors know when they were having a difficult time. Being a trainee, and having work given back with lots of changes, is hard. Supervisors need to remember that and praise the good, not just pick up on the things that need amending.

Some tips/other thoughts:
  • Recognise and label the emotion you are feeling and reassure yourself it will pass
  • Try not to fixate on an issue that has upset you. Write it down, and 9 times out of 10 it won’t bother you a week later
  • Talking to people: people are very often understanding and supportive
  • As a precursor to the above, taking time to develop and nurture relationships at work so you have people you can talk to, and who will have your back
  • Listen to others and try to understand their perspectives, rather than trying to solve the issue. Do not shy away from having the conversation if you think there is a “block” there.
  • Try not to deal with everything by yourself; sometimes an initial chat/rant to a colleague/family/friend helps to put difficult scenarios in perspective and allows you to then deal with them more effectively
  • Crying can be about frustration, not about being upset. Concern that some people (and some men) might not realise that
  • Think about why you cried – were you just having an emotional day or was someone else making you feel that way? If the latter that is not right and needs to be looked into
  • Remind yourself that you can only work with what you have in a current situation; that you have got where you are by being good at your job, so what is happening is not because of you
  • Some firms have dedicated break-out areas/wellbeing rooms where one can go to relax
  • Focus on breathing properly and staying in the moment. Perhaps try using a mindfulness app (eg Headspace) to help with that
  • Take a break when emotions are high – if possible to go outside and get some fresh air, or go and splash water on your face
  • Takeg a day or half a day annual leave if you aren’t able to do anything at work; it then alleviates the guilt that might compound things
  • Use any mental health wellbeing “perks” provided at work
  • Work out what works for you to reduce stressors – examples being a clear (or at least minimal) inbox, tidy desk, organised files
  • Seek outside help if appropriate, for example counselling or therapy
  • Practise difficult conversations beforehand, either by yourself or with a mentor/trusted friend
  • Exercise, including online classes

The call in the South West (Bath)

 

2) Much has been written about the different value judgments that are made about men and women showing the same emotions. Have you observed this or experienced it yourself?

A lot of the groups had observed this and experienced it. Generally, women are meant to be measured in the workplace and not show emotions – whether angry or sad – that if men showed would not be judged in the same way. Eg if a man is angry in the office, people justify it as “he’s just stressed because he’s got that important meeting/urgent deadline/etc”. But if a woman is angry in the office, people put their own narrative on it like “it’s her time of the month” or “she’s a nasty person”.

One group thought that assertive women tend to be labelled as “bossy”, which (without generalising too much) might not happen with men, and that women also seem to self-label more often than men (again, without over-generalising!), applying negative labels like “bossy” to themselves. They asked if maybe women spend more time and energy questioning how they are perceived?

Others noticed that there can be a tendency to allow men to “get away with” things women are punished for. Eg a man can repeatedly rant and rave, but if he apologises after each instance, the slate is wiped clean, but if a woman does so, it is likely the behaviour will be remembered more.

On the flip side of the coin one group felt that men can be judged more harshly than women in the workplace if they get upset. Women are comforted and listened to, but men might be judged to not be coping and so on. In particular, other men have been seen to struggle with an upset man; it would often be a women who would then step in to support the upset man.

All of this means that men and women are held to different standards, which can be detrimental to everyone.

Many felt that men and women will largely feel the same emotions but tend to show them differently, and that it is probably healthier to get the emotions out than bottle things up. Men can instead withdraw – both from work and socially.

More and more though, men are finding the space to be themselves and be more open with their emotions (eg saying they were feeling under-confident one day). Sometimes sharing a perceived weakness gains the respect of others. These weaknesses are often signs of strength! One group observed that the stereotype of successful women being angry or aggressive has lessened over the years.

 

3) Has our remote working situation made it easier or harder to deal with emotions at work? Has it brought us together more?

Some thoughts on this topic from the different groups:

  • It is often easier at home than in the office to take a break and do something completely different for a few minutes to cool off (housework, gardening, radio etc) or cry, moan, grumble, shout, etc without colleagues seeing/noticing
  • Others missed being able to easily have mini rants/vents to a colleague that understands the industry we are in
  • Recognition that times are tough and we need to take care of ourselves and monitor emotions
  • All brought together by this shared experience of lockdown
  • Lots of people reporting an increased mental load, but lots of people saying that their husbands have been able to play more of a role since WFH (working from home) has become more commonplace
  • It’s been a learning curve for relationships whilst working from home. Definitely more challenging at the start, but has become easier and more enjoyable
  • Lots of extra effort required at the moment to support trainees and new starters – supervisors do not see how hard the trainees are working and one commented that it was like they had forgotten the exams were happening
  • Some noted that men have been more emotionally engaged. The consensus was that we felt this was due in part to them being in the comfort of their own homes, and so perhaps feeling more relaxed to share when they are struggling
  • When in the office, you would often just catch someone in passing to be able to tell them that something was wrong or for them to tell you whereas now you would have to go out of your way to arrange a meeting to tell/ask someone. People are less likely to ask “are you OK?” if they can’t see something might be wrong
  • It is important to encourage line managers to be aware of and spot signs over calls
  • WFH has brought us together more in some sense – because we can see our colleagues in their homes, when they’re dressed normally and not in suits, we can connect with them more easily. It has brought our guards down a little, and made us seem normal, more human. We see the complete person – not just the work persona
  • Sharing of and picking up on emotions is harder over video conference – lack of body language etc
  • In a similar vein, it is now easier to mask your emotions by turning your camera off. This means that things may go unnoticed, so it’s important to watch out for each other and make sure no-one falls between the cracks
  • One group discussed the importance of setting up short regular catch-up calls (not about work) with colleagues. Eg partner and employee. These don’t exactly replicate but are similar to having a regular catch-up while making coffee. Important to keep relationships going, and to build new ones, and so that you have the regular chance to just talk to someone and get things off your chest if needed
  • Catch-ups don’t have to be between boss and linee. One company has a rotation system that matches people up in pairs for regular calls, so people could be talking to people they don’t usually interact with
  • People experiencing difficult emotions may prefer texts or phone calls to Zoom calls
  • A number of people missed the structure of the working day in the office and there is a tendency to work longer hours and be on call longer with the blurring of the line between work and home
  • The pandemic might have brought us a sense of perspective (so small mistakes at work might feel less catastrophic)
  • There has been a real emphasis in lots of firms on supporting mental health, and the start of conversations often focus around how people are doing
  • One group expressed their hope that the openness around mental health wellbeing will continue as and when people return to their offices

 

Another one of the London calls

 

What’s next?

Thank you, as ever, to all our hosts for setting up the Zoom calls and chairing the conversations. And thank you to everyone who joined us and shared their thoughts with us.

Our next coffee date (another collaboration, this time with IP Out) is planned for Thursday 14 January at 4.15 pm and will be advertised on LinkedIn and on the IP Inclusive events page soon. Please do get in touch with emily.teesdale@abelimray.com or isobel.barry@carpmaels.com if you would like to be involved in hosting one of the Zoom calls.

 

 

Page published on 9th December 2020
Page last modified on 9th December 2020
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