Emotional processing in the workplace: why we need to focus on employee wellbeing

The link between productivity and employee wellbeing is clear and the role that organisations play – and are expected to play – in supporting the wellbeing of its employees has increased sharply over the past year.

Employers need to confront the realities of what their employees will likely be experiencing – stress, distress and low motivation. Without an engaged and resilient workforce, organisations will struggle to progress and achieve their goals. Never before has this been so pertinent, yet wellbeing has been difficult to quantify until now.

The Emotional Processing Scale – Wellbeing (EPS-W), publishing this autumn, addresses this gap. The EPS-W is a rigorous, yet practical and efficient measure that taps into how people deal with changes and challenges in their working lives. Ahead of its publication, we spoke with the test’s author, Professor Roger Baker, to find out more about its scientific underpinnings and why it has never been so important for employers to focus on staff wellbeing.

How do you think our approach to our mental health and wellbeing has changed as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic?

The Covid-19 pandemic has heightened our awareness and understanding of the importance of emotional wellbeing and the impact of stress, isolation, grief and trauma on mental health. Working from home has highlighted issues such as the need for a healthy work – life balance, for finding meaning and purpose in our work and the crucial role of social bonds. Employers are more mindful of the need to ensure the emotional wellbeing and mental health of their staff.

What is ‘emotional processing’ and why it is relevant to our functioning in the workplace?

In 1980 the psychologist Jack Rachman first proposed a psychological theory of how emotional distressing events are absorbed and resolved, which he called ‘emotional processing’. This is very relevant when we consider the range of stresses we have had to face during the pandemic. He suggested that ‘most people successfully process the overwhelming majority of distressing events that occur in life’ but that blockages and failures in processing could lead to psychological symptoms. In effect, by suggesting that successful processing of distressing emotional events was the norm, he was proposing a sort of natural healing process, which I have referred to as ‘a second immune system’ devoted not to biological protection but to protection from emotional damage.

Isn’t it natural for work to be stressful?

When it come to the workplace, minimising stressful practices is of course important, but there is a limit; stress and pressure are intrinsic to ‘work’, so the emotional resilience of staff becomes especially important. Knowing how to effectively emotionally process stressful events is crucial to an individual’s psychological wellbeing.

How does the EPS-W identify if an individual has an effective emotional processing style?

Our research team at Bournemouth University identified a number of key elements of an effective emotional processing style and found ways to measure this, and also identify signs when processing is beginning to fail. This is important because in numerous research studies in anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, eating disorders, alcohol and drug abuse, mental health conditions are always associated with problematic emotional processing. Finding ways to identify and provide personal development pointers for staff can all help build emotional resilience and ultimately prevent the development of psychological disorders.

Can you tell us more about what the test measures?

‘Emotional openness’ refers to the capacity for accepting emotional experiences, even negative feelings, and being able to express them appropriately rather than suppressing or avoiding them.

‘Emotional connectedness’ refers to how connected a person is to their own emotions; are emotions regarded as a valid part of their life, that provides meaning and direction, like an ‘emotional information system’, or are they regarded as an unnecessary distraction? Our team have found ways of measuring these and other emotional processing dimensions through the EPS-W, and the tool provides practical guidance regarding personal strengths and weaknesses in processing.

How should organisations approach using the EPS-W?

The EPS-W is a very versatile instrument, so organisations are using it in different ways. Some of the uses relate to the organisation as a whole, for instance coping with the emotional impact of organisational change, emotional aspects of returning to work from remote practices, leadership development and the formation of emotionally compatible teams and assessing emotional resilience for stressful or traumatic work.

Other uses are more individual, such as personal development of staff, career coaching, dealing with difficult relationships, dealing with difficult customers.

A resilient emotional processing style underpins effectiveness and wellbeing not just at work but in relationships and home life, so the potential applications are diverse.

About the Emotional Processing Scale (EPS) and the Emotional Processing Scale – Wellbeing (EPS-W)

The Emotional Processing Scale (EPS) questionnaire was originally developed over 15 years by a research team at Bournemouth University lead by Roger Baker, for use in clinical and therapeutic applications. Published by Hogrefe Ltd in 2015, the scale was reviewed by the British Psychological Society’s Psychological Testing Centre in 2016 and was given 17 excellent and 6 good ratings on 23 core scientific criteria.

Since publication, it became clear that an occupational equivalent of the EPS would be useful to enhance wellbeing, quality of life and performance of individuals in the workplace.

The Emotional Processing Scale – Wellbeing (EPS-W) publishes this autumn and will be a valuable addition to employee wellbeing programmes. With online administration that takes just 5 to 10 minutes, the measure features a new interpretation guide and report, providing practical guidance for improving wellbeing and building resilience. Contact us to express your interest or to discuss using the EPS-W at your organisation.

 

About Professor Roger Baker

Roger Baker is Professor of Clinical Psychology at Bournemouth University and formerly a Consultant Clinical Psychologist with the Dorset HealthCare University NHS Foundation Trust (now retired). He has worked in a dual role as researcher and clinical psychologist at various UK universities and in NHS Mental Health Trusts, specialising in emotions and the treatment of anxiety disorders. For 15 years he directed the Dorset Research and Development Support Unit, and it was during this time he became interested in the interaction between emotions and medical symptoms. He has since been involved in research and therapy projects in this area. Roger received an Honorary Fellowship from BABCP for his outstanding contribution to therapy services in 2015.