Enthusiasm: a positive or negative attribute for employees? It’s more complicated than you think

Bringing a sense of passion to your work can have terrific advantages.

A colleague in high spirits can get work done more quickly, and use their energy to raise the morale of the entire office. Moreover, because enthusiastic employees typically channel their excitement into their work, they often do a better job than those who aren’t emotionally invested.

But it may surprise some readers – especially those who do find themselves on the more ‘excitable’ end of the spectrum – to learn that here, as in many other cases, too much of a good thing can actually lead to negative outcomes. If not managed carefully, that passion can have a ‘dark side’ that puts real obstacles in the way of both the employee and their colleagues.

There are several warning signs to indicate that an over-abundance of excitability may not always be your friend. The first is that, for most people, that sense of excitement can switch off, or even turn into an equally strong feeling of frustration, if their efforts are met with criticism for any reason. They may even ‘switch off’ and abandon interest in tasks that they consider to be misguided, or where they feel their efforts are unappreciated. To make things worse, their generally active and vocal nature makes that dissatisfaction apparent to everyone around them.

In other words, a clear and public over-emotional investment in a project is often accompanied by an obscured and private – but no less real – over-sensitivity to criticism. But taking criticism is an essential part of the job. None of us are perfect, and we all get feedback on our work. We make mistakes, we misinterpret instructions and guidelines, and sometimes the boss chooses our colleagues’ ideas over our own. In these moments, the excitable personality has particular trouble maintaining its good cheer, and channelling that excitement into the necessary (even if sometimes disagreeable) tasks of correcting mistakes, re-writing reports, and working to support the efforts of perceived rivals.

By contrast, moderately low scores on the excitability scale tend to indicate employees who are able to summon enthusiasm when called for, but have little risk of letting its negative aspects control their behaviour when things don’t go as planned. Rather than flipping dramatically between limitless energy and hot-tempered outbursts, the balanced personality realises that work is a marathon rather than a sprint, and works with a patience and consistency that puts colleagues at ease.

Putting your emotions to work for you

Of course, achieving a balanced personality is more difficult than it sounds. If you or a colleague find yourselves to be over-emotional at times, there are concrete steps you can take to help bring your mind to a healthy equilibrium. One of these is to always remember to keep the right perspective. A new opportunity may inspire a brilliant burst of energy and optimism, but in these moments it is important to remember that not all opportunities turn into victories and achievements. Try not to fly so high, and the times you fall to the ground won’t hurt so much.

Recognise also that everyone around you has their own viewpoint, and it’s OK if it doesn’t always align with yours. If you work hard to produce something, and your peers suggest changing it, they aren’t necessarily attacking you. Your stress markers may rise, and you will feel a natural instinct to defend the work you spent so much effort to create, but an emotional response in these moments will solve no problems and create many. Breathe, step back out of the emotional current that wants to carry you away, and keep that perspective we talked about earlier. Thank them for taking the time to review your work, try to understand their ideas better, and do your best to create a second draft that is even more impressive than your first.

Remember to place your focus not on yourself, but on your team. You win only when everyone wins. These may be difficult lessons to learn, and it will surely take time to develop an instinct for taking the wider perspective. But it will also lead to a more consistently enjoyable experience at work, as well as better relationships with your colleagues. Through this method of taking your energy and directing it toward the healthy goals of teamwork in its purest sense, your passion and enthusiasm could become an extraordinary asset for your office, raising the spirits (and the potential) of the entire team.

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