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Emotion At Work


  • Ursula Hess


Emotions are ubiquitous in the workplace. In recent years the ideal of the non-emotional workplace has slowly given way to the realization that emotions not only are an indelible part of work life but have an important role to play. Emotions at the work place are implicitly divided into good emotions - those that are conducive to the goals of the enterprise and bad emotions - those that are perceived as destructive. Thus, positive emotions can increase creativity, encourage helping behavior and cooperation and reduce aggression both against the organization and against people. In contrast, anger leads to counterproductive behaviors such as theft, vandalism, and aggression towards co-workers, sadness makes employees want to quit their job, and envy and jealousy are a source of stress and also lead to a propensity to quit. However, this distinction is not fully realistic. It requires effort to produce ?good? emotions reliably and, when employees have to ?fake? emotions, for example in service encounters, there is a risk of emotional dissonance, a state that leads to employee dissatisfaction, lack of well-being, and eventually burnout. In turn, not all bad emotions are always bad. Anger for example, leads not only to counterproductive work behaviors but may motivate and empower employees to confront obstacles. And leaders who show anger when confronted with bad news are perceived as more competent and motivate their employees more than those who show sadness. One danger of employing emotions as part of the work process is that when emotions are faked they lead to emotional dissonance and burnout. This is the case for the sales person who need to suppress irritation and show pleasantness in the presence of an irate customer as much as for the transformational leader who needs to suppress uncertainty to show enthusiasm to motivate employees. Thus the use of emotions as tools in the business environment may come at a price. One aspect that has just recently attracted attention is that emotions are not the same for everyone. The same emotion shown by a man and a women does not have the same effect. Where anger shown by a man can be perceived as a sign of strength, the same anger in a woman may be perceived as ?hysterics.? Also members of different ethnic groups endorse the expression of emotions to different degrees. Thus in the increasingly multicultural business environment of today, what may seem adequate and motivating to some may be seen as an inappropriate sign of weakness by others. In sum, the workplace is an emotional place and a leader does well to not neglect this important aspect of the work process.

Suggested Citation

  • Ursula Hess, 2003. "Emotion At Work," CIRANO Burgundy Reports 2003rb-03, CIRANO.
  • Handle: RePEc:cir:cirbur:2003rb-03

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