Emotions in the workplace

Emotions in the workplace play a large role in how an entire organization communicates within itself and to the outside world. “Events at work have real emotional impact on participants. The consequences of emotional states in the workplace, both behavioral and attitudinal, have substantial significance for individuals, groups, and society”.[1] “Positive emotions in the workplace help employees obtain favorable outcomes including achievement, job enrichment and higher quality social context”.[2] “Negative emotions, such as fear, anger, stress, hostility, sadness, and guilt, however increase the predictability of workplace deviance,”,[3] and how the outside world views the organization.

Emotions normally are associated with specific events or occurrences and are intense enough to disrupt thought processes.”.[4] Moods on the other hand, are more “generalized feelings or states that are not typically identified with a particular stimulus and not sufficiently intense to interrupt ongoing thought processes”.[4] There can be many consequences for allowing negative emotions to affect your general attitude or mood at work. “Emotions and emotion management are a prominent feature of organizational life. It is crucial “to create a publicly observable and desirable emotional display as a part of a job role.” [5]

“The starting point for modern research on emotion in organizations seems to have been sociologist Hochschild’s (1983) seminal book on emotional labor: The Managed Heart”. Ever since then the study of emotions in the work place has been seen as a near science, with seminars being held on it and books being writing about it every year to help us understand the role it plays. (Cynthia D. Fisher) Among the many reasons to be interested in human emotions in the workplace, foremost is that as applied scientists, one of our aspirations is to increase human welfare. Rather than being objective,welfare is subjectively defined by people in terms of their affective reactions to organizational events. Consequently, if we can find ways to alter organizational practices, social processes, or task designs in ways that increase positive emotions and reduce negative emotions, the welfare of organizational members is directly increased. (http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=

The role of emotions

Emotions play such a big role in our lives that there are more than 600 words in English to describe them verbally, not to mention 43 facial muscles to express them physically. And although human beings speak more than 6,000 languages, about 90 percent of people across different cultures have no trouble figuring out if someone is registering happiness, surprise, or disgust just by looking at the person’s face. We are supersensitive to the slightest shift in people’s facial expressions, especially if they are registering fear or anger. [6] We are not slaves to emotional cues and triggers. We can use reason to evaluate our emotions, interpret them, and even reassess our initial reaction to them. We can soften their impact or shift their meaning.[6] In other words, we can control our own emotions as well as the effect that other people’s emotions have on us. In fact, the ability to detect, assess, and control one’s emotions is one of the predictors of success in relating to the Other. So, somewhat paradoxically, connecting with the Other depends on developing a deep understanding of ourselves — what triggers our strongest emotions, and how the emotions we show impact others.[6] For example, an executive who understands that looming deadlines bring out the worse in her won’t schedule an important meeting if she has work piling up. A manager who knows that talking about certain subjects tends to get him angry will think twice before reacting to an opinion that would normally set him off.[6]Being able to read emotional cues in employees is a tool that can make any supervisor’s or manager’s job easier. It can allow you to motivate them in ways that cause positive performance, and avoid conflict in your work place.


Positive emotions at work such as high achievement and excitement have “desirable effect independent of a person's relationships with others, including greater task activity, persistence and enhanced cognitive function.” [2] “Strong positive emotions of emotionally intelligent people [include] optimism, positive mood, self-efficacy, and emotional resilience to persevere under adverse circumstances. “.[7] “Optimism rests on the premise that failure is not inherent in the individual; it may be attributed to circumstances that may be changed with a refocusing of effort.” [7] Those who express positive emotions in the workplace are better equipped to influence their coworkers favorably. “They are also more likable, and a halo effect may occur when warm or satisfied employees are rated favorably on other desirable attributes.” [2] It is likely that these people will inspire cooperation in others to carry out a task. It is said that, “employees experience fewer positive emotions when interacting with their supervisors as compared with interactions with coworkers and customers.” [8] Specific workers such as “service providers are expected to react to aggressive behaviors directed toward them with nonaggressive and even courteous behavior…also to engage in what has been termed emotional labor by demonstrating polite and pleasant manners regardless of the customer’s behavior.” [9] Being aware whether or not your showing positive emotions will cause ripple effects in the workplace. A manager or co-worker who displays positive emotions consistently is more likely to motivate those around him/her and have more opportunities within the company. Being able to bring out positive emotions and aware of how to do this can be an incredibly useful tool in the workplace. "Positive mood also elicits more exploration and enjoyment of new ideas and can enhance creativity" (Isen, 2000).A manager who is able to reward and speak to his employees in a way that brings out their positive emotions will be much more successful than one who lacks these skills.

Emotional labor/ emotional work

“As the nature of the U.S. and global economies is increasingly transforming from manufacturing to service, organizational participants are coping with new challenges, and those challenges often involve complex processes of emotion in the workplace. The initial shift in the economy involved a move to customer service (including industries such as retailing, restaurants and the travel industry) , leading to scholarly consideration of the way emotional communication is used in the service of customers and in the advancement of organizational goals. This type of work has come to be labeled as emotional labor...the emotions and displays in emotional labor are largely inauthentic and are seen by management as a commodity that can be controlled, trained and set down in employee handbooks.” [10] “This relates to the induction or suppression of feeling in order to sustain an outward appearance that produces a sense in others of being cared for in a convivial safe place.”.[11] Emotional labor refers to effort to show emotions that may not be genuinely felt but must be displayed in order to “express organizationally desired emotion during interpersonal transaction.”[5]Commercialization of emotional labor and the trends towards the homogenization of industrial and service-sector labor processes have, in turn, been shaped by the adoption of new management practices designed to promote feeling-rules and personal patterns of behavior that enhance the institutions or enterprises performance or competitive edge”.[11] In order to define the image that they want their organizations to portray, leaders use a “core component of “emotional intelligence” to recognize emotions.”.[12] that appear desirable. Organizations have begun using their employee’s “emotion as a commodity used for the sake of profit”.[10] Emotional labor inhibits workers from being able to participate in authentic emotional work. Emotional work is described as “emotion that is authentic, not emotion that is manufactured through surface acting…rarely seen as a profit center for management”.[10] “The person whose feelings are easily aroused (but not necessarily easily controlled) is going to have far more difficulty in dealing with emotionally stressful situations. In contrast, empathic concern is hypothesized to have positive effects on responsiveness in international and on outcomes for the worker. A worker with empathic concern will have feelings for the client but will be able to deal more effectively with the client’s problems because there is not a direct sharing of the client’s emotions”.[13] “Although emotional labor may be helpful to the organizational bottom line, there has been recent work suggesting that managing emotions for pay may be detrimental to the employee”.[14] Emotional labor and emotional work both have negative aspects to them including the feelings of stress, frustration or exhaustion that all lead to burnout. “Burnout is related to serious negative consequences such as deterioration in the quality of service, job turnover, absenteeism and low morale…[It] seems to be correlated with various self report indices of personal distress, including physical exhaustion, insomnia, increased use of alcohol and drugs and marital and family problems”.[15]


Negative emotions at work can be formed by “work overload, lack of rewards, and social relations which appear to be the most stressful work-related factors”.[16] “Cynicism is a negative affective reaction to the organization. Cynics feel contempt, distress, shame, and even disgust when they reflect upon their organizations” (Abraham, 1999). Negative emotions are caused by “a range of workplace issues, including aggression, verbal abuse, sexual harassment, computer flaming, blogging, assertiveness training, grapevines, and non verbal behavior”.[17] “Stress is the problem of each person feeling it. [Negative emotions] can be caused by “poor leadership, lack of guidance, lack of support and backup. Employees lack of confidence in their abilities to deal with work demands… and their lack of confidence in coworkers… can also create prolonged negative stress”.[18] Showing stress reveals weakness, therefore, employees suppress their negative emotions at work and home. “People who continually inhibit their emotions have been found to be more prone to disease than those who are emotionally expressive”.[5]Negative emotions can be seen as a disease in the workplace. Those who exhibit it negatively affect those around them and can change the entire environment. A co-working might de-motivate those around them, a manager might cause his employees to feel contempt. Recognizing the negative emotions and learning how to handle them can be a tool for personal success as well as the success of your team. Managing your emotions in a way that does not show negativity will cause you to be seen more favorably in the workplace and can help with your personal productivity and development.


Psychological and Emotional- “Individuals experiencing job insecurity have an increased risk for anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and somatic complaints”.[19] Marital and Family- Spouses and children can feel the crossover effects of burnout brought home from the workplace. Depleted levels of energy which effect home management is another consequence. Organizational- Negative feelings at work effect “employee moral, turnover rate, commitment to the organization”.[19] Not being able to control personal emotions and recognize emotional cues in others can be disastrous in the workplace. It can cause conflict between you and others, or simply cause you to be seen in a negative light and result in missed opportunities.

Not having a strong base to things like drama and gossip can also disrupt a functioning business. Lisa McQuerrey gives a definition for drama: “Drama is usually defined as spreading unverified information, discussing personal matters at work, antagonizing colleagues or blowing minor issues out of proportion to get attention.” McQuerry wrote an article giving solutions to stop drama and conflict between coworkers. There are eight important solutions to ending conflict in a workplace according to McQuerrey, first being to set a policy in an employee handbook making drama unacceptable. With this, there needs to be a list of consequences. Second being that the roles of employees need to be clarified. Other examples in her article include: Stopping gossip before it makes its rounds, confronting employees about changes at work yourself instead of having a rumor mill, report drama if there is a regular instigator. McQuerrey goes on with saying that if situations go on, there should be a meeting held where management mediates the people who gossip. It is also important to follow up with your policy and give warnings about the consequences. Employees may be unaware of how their actions impact their coworkers, bringing in a behavioral expert into your business is usually a positive reinforcement when there’s nothing else you can do. [20]


Being able to not only control your emotions, but gauge the motions of those around you and effective influence them is imperative to success in the workplace. “Toxicity in the workplace is a regular occurrence and an occupational hazard. That is why the success of many projects, and the organization itself, depends on the success of “handlers,” the people (usually managers) whose interventions either assuage individuals’ pain from toxicity or eliminate it completely. “[21] “One can conclude that the ability to effectively deal with emotions and emotional information in the workplace assists employees in managing occupational stress and maintaining psychological well-being. This indicates that stress reduction and health protection could be achieved not only by decreasing work demands (stressors), but also by increasing the personal resources of employees, including emotional intelligence. The increasing of EI skills (empathy, impulse control) necessary for successful job performance can help workers to deal more effectively with their feelings, and thus directly decrease the level of job stress and indirectly protect their health”.[16]

See also


  1. (Weiss, 2002)
  2. 1 2 3 (Staw, Sutton, Pelled, 1994)
  3. (Lee, Allen, 2002)
  4. 1 2 (Brief, Weiss, 2002)
  5. 1 2 3 (Mann, 1999)
  6. 1 2 3 4 (Martin, 2012)
  7. 1 2 (Abraham, 1999)
  8. (Bono, Jackson, Foldes, Vinson, Muros, 2007)
  9. (Ben-Zur, Yagil, 2005)
  10. 1 2 3 (Miller, 2007)
  11. 1 2 (Poynter, 2002)
  12. (Elfenbein, Ambady, 2002)
  13. (Miller, Koesten, 2008)
  14. (Grandey, 2000)
  15. (Olofsson, Bengtsson, Brink 2003)
  16. 1 2 (Oginska-Bulik, 2005)
  17. (Muir, 2006)
  18. (Olofsson, Bengtsson, Brink, 2003)
  19. 1 2 (Canaff, Wright, 2004)
  20. McQuerrey, Lisa. "Eight Steps to End Drama in The Workplace". Retrieved 20 April 2014.
  21. Peter J.Frost

Works cited

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