Emotion In Organizations Research Paper

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Looking back over the past century of research and practice focusing on the role of emotion in organizations, it is clear that emotions have always been considered; yet how they are valued by managers has changed tremendously over time. While early researchers such as Rexford Hersey, as well as F. L. Roethlisberger and colleagues, spent considerable effort examining workers’ emotions and reactions to workplace conditions in the 1930s, the dominant attitude among management scholars during that time centered around Frederick Taylor’s industrial efficiency movement. This attitude was made explicit by Willliam H. Whyte in the 1950s when he defined ideal businessmen as being driven by logic and rationality. To Whyte, emotions were considered influences to be minimized and ignored when possible. And although adherence to Taylor’s principles of scientific management ultimately did not last, the belief that feelings and emotions are not important to job performance survives to current times.

Despite this reluctance by some to acknowledge a legitimate role for emotions in the workplace, the simple fact is that emotions are a necessary and fundamental aspect of human existence. One way in which this awareness was tacitly acknowledged was through the widespread acceptance by managers of the value of job satisfaction. This appreciation for job satisfaction grew from what is often referred to as the “happy-productive worker hypothesis,” which states that when workers are happy (satisfied), they will be more productive than they will when they are unhappy. However, there are two important caveats regarding this hypothesis. First, despite nearly 50 years of research on this topic, there is still relatively little evidence that satisfied employees are significantly more productive than less satisfied employees (Fisher, 2003). Second, as many scholars have recently noted, job satisfaction is not an emotion; it is an attitude. This distinction is important to keep in mind because, while attitudes do contain an emotional component, they are also strongly influenced by both thoughts (cognitions) and behavior. While it is likely that the cognitive aspect made job satisfaction more acceptable for managers resistant to valuing emotions in the workplace, ultimately, due to its mixed nature, it did not serve managers or employees well.

The resurgence of interest in the role of emotion in organizational life over the past 20 years has been widely noted among scholars and eagerly embraced by many businesses. This heightened attention has been the result of a broader societal trend toward the recognition and acceptance of the noncognitive influences on organizational life. Furthermore, several new theories and models have been developed in the area, each offering possible explanations for the psychological processes underlying the influence of emotion on workplace behaviors. Subsequently, research investigating the role that affect plays in predicting work-related behaviors such as job performance, absenteeism, organizational citizenship, and counterproductive work behaviors continues to increase.

Despite this enthusiasm, managers and scholars face three key challenges. The first is resolving the widespread confusion about what exactly is meant by words like emotion, mood, and affect. Though at first glance, most people may feel that they know what these terms mean, their definitions and use in research and practice vary greatly. A second challenge is continuing to develop and refine emotion specific theories. While numerous theories include emotional information, a growing area of scholarship focuses on developing and improving theories that explain the antecedents, processes, and consequences of different types of emotion in the workplace. Third, scholars and practitioners must actively seek to integrate research findings from multiple sources so that a broad understanding of the role that emotion plays in organizations can be attained.

This research-paper begins the presentation of key definitions and terms used in emotion scholarship, including affect, emotion, mood, affective disposition, and traits. This is followed by a review of several of the more recent and influential theories describing the processes through which emotion influences organizational behavior. In particular, the groundbreaking theoretical work of Howard Weiss and Russell Cropanzano’s (1996) Affective Events Theory, and Joseph Foragas’ (1995) Affect Infusion Model are discussed. Alternatively, while these theories are mostly known only by academics, the works of Arlie Hochschild (1983) on emotional labor and Daniel Goleman (1997) on emotional intelligence have reached widespread recognition in the general public, and as such, each is also reviewed. In the next section, brief summaries of key research findings and applications of emotions in organizational behavior are offered. These short sections serve as introductions into our expanding knowledge and include, among others, discussions on the influence of emotion on aspects of organizational life critical to 21st-century management (e.g., job performance, leadership, and stress). As the preceding sections establish, evidence continues to build regarding the importance of emotions in the workplace. As a result, numerous calls have been made to incorporate emotion into personnel management systems. The following two sections introduce readers to ways by which emotions can be incorporated into management practices and discuss cross-cultural considerations. In the final section, a summary and a number of suggestions for future research are offered, along with suggested readings. It is the purpose of this research-paper to provide readers with a starting point for understanding the critical role that emotion plays in 21st-century management.

Theoretical Frameworks

Defining Emotion

The label of “emotion” encompasses a wide range of phenomena, including feelings, changes in behavior and cognitions, engagement in impulsive or involuntary behavior and thoughts, relative tenacity of beliefs, changes in the relationship between a person and his or her environment, and physiological changes not caused by physical conditions. Given this definition of emotion, it is important to distinguish what differentiates emotion from other widely used terms. Howard Weiss (2002) has provided a framework for understanding the different constructs that fall within this broad domain. In his framework, the term affective states refers to a family of related entities that he labels as “mood,” “stress,” and “emotion.” Affect is a broad term used to describe any emotion related term (e.g., mood, stress, and discrete emotions). Stress is defined as an immediate negative psychological and/or aroused physiological state arising from an individual’s experience of an aversive environmental challenge.

Emotions are a large class of discrete affective states such as anger, fear, and guilt. There are as many emotions as can be identified by a given language. Russell (1997) reported that as many as 2,000 emotionally descriptive words may be present in the English language. Given this large pool of potential emotions, it is useful to identify a subset of emotions that might be more important than others. While there is some disagreement as to specifics, many researchers endorse a viewpoint that emphasizes the importance of a small subset of “basic” or universal emotions (e.g., happiness, surprise, fear, sadness, anger, and disgust). An alternative perspective of emotions suggests they can be understood by examining their location along the continuum of two or three fundamental dimensions. This approach, often referred to as the “circumplex model,” suggests that all emotions can be considered blends of these core dimensions. The general consensus among circumplex researchers is that the two core dimensions are valence (pleasant-unpleasant) and arousal (high-low activation). Using this circumplex, the specific emotion of anger would be defined as a combination of high activation and high unpleasantness, whereas contentment would be a combination of low activation and high pleasantness. Watson and Tellegen (1985) revised this model by rotating the axes of the circumplex by 45° and relabeling them “positive affect” (PA) and “negative affect” (NA). High levels of PA are characterized by enthusiasm and optimism, while high levels of NA are represented by anxiousness and nervousness. The predominant use of PA and NA in affect research laid the foundation for nearly 20 years of renewed interest in workplace affect.

Emotions and moods are primarily distinguished not in content, but rather, by their degree of intensity and duration. Relative to emotions, moods are defined as being more diffuse, more enduring, and less related to specific environmental phenomena. For example, emotion would be evidenced by the statement “That movie ending made me angry,” while, “I’m feeling angry today” would be more indicative of a mood state. In both cases, anger is the defining affective label; however, the behavioral and cognitive implications of anger emotion and anger mood are different. A person feeling the emotion of anger at one moment, might in a few minutes experience a completely different emotion (e.g., feeling pleasure after having a conversation with a friend about how bad a movie ending was), whereas a person in an angry mood is likely to remain feeling angry well after any source of anger-inciting stimuli has been removed. Thus, the defining distinctions between moods and discrete emotions are (a) moods are more enduring than emotions; (b) moods are not formed as distinct and immediate reactions to specific objects, people, or events; and (c) moods are more resistant to change than are emotions.

Emotional Disposition (Traits)

The affective disposition perspective stresses the critical difference between state and trait affect as independent constructs playing distinct roles in determining workplace behavior. Randy Larsen and his colleagues (Larsen, Diener, & Lucas, 2002) point out four critical reasons why state and trait affect must be carefully conceptualized and measured distinctly from one another: (a) mood states are more proximal than trait affect and, as such, may have direct effects on specific behaviors and attitudes that trait affect does not have; (b) the causal direction of mood states may be different from that of traits (e.g., moods are influenced by events while traits influence events); (c) because trait affect is stable, it might allow for prediction of behavior and emotional reactions to events; and (d) researchers often confuse state and trait in the current research (e.g., correlating trait affect and helping behavior, then claiming that people engage in more helping behavior when they are in a good mood). Avoiding this conceptual confusion is not difficult, but it requires being mindful of the definition of the construct under investigation and aligning measurement correspondingly. While moods are certainly influenced by trait affect, by definition, they are general reactions to environmental events and as such are indivisibly linked to environmental conditions and events. Thus, the distinction between trait and state affect is defined by measuring how one feels generally versus how one feels during a specific and relatively brief moment in time (e.g., today, or this week).

Yet, if PA and NA are to be considered as universal affective traits, evidence must be provided to support the claim that they are universally prevalent and relatively stable individual differences. Evidence of a biological origin of PA and NA would provide strong evidence to support this claim, as biological foundations underlie many of our most widely studied individual differences (e.g., sex, race, ability). Evidence suggesting the biological origin and stability of trait PA and NA has come from several sources. Numerous studies have detailed the neurophysiological research supporting distinct brain activity differences between those high and low in PA and NA. Second, in a compelling study examining the long-term stability of PA and NA over 23 years, crossing four generations and nearly 3,000 subjects, Charles, Reynolds, and Gatz (2001) found that NA slowly decreased with age while PA remained stable until old age, when it decreased slightly. Third, Watson and his colleagues (Watson, Wiese, Vaidya, & Tellegen, 1999) concluded that PA follows a circadian rhythm while NA remains fairly stable across time. Taken as a whole, these studies provide justification for the conceptualization and existence of trait PA and NA as distinct affective traits.

Research examining the role of trait affect in predicting workplace behavior has generally taken one, or both, of two approaches. The first approach holds that trait affect directly influences workplace attitudes and behaviors, while the second approach suggests that trait affect may have a more indirect effect by moderating the relationship between situational variables (e.g., job characteristics) and outcomes (e.g., performance, stress). Additionally, it is common for researchers to adopt both approaches in the same study. Findings based on both of these perspectives support the view that trait affect asserts both direct and indirect effects on workplace behaviors and attitudes.

Affective Events Theory (AET)

Howard Weiss and Russell Cropanzano’s (1996) Affective Events Theory (AET) has generated enormous interest over the last decade and is distinct from previous theories in a number of critical ways. First, rather than assuming that emotions and moods are stable antecedents of behavior and attitudes, AET suggests that emotion plays a more dynamic role that is initiated as a reaction to, rather than as a cause of, workplace events. This is not to say that affect does not have a subsequent effect on behavior, but rather that AET emphasizes that events and affect interact in a continuous cycle. Second, in contrast to dispositional theories of trait affect, which are primarily assessed using the broad PA and NA constructs, AET has the potential to enhance understanding of the complex process of specific emotional reactions as they relate to discrete workplace events (e.g., being turned down for a promotion leads to the specific emotions of rejection and anger, but not of fear and disgust). A third innovative aspect of AET is its consideration of the episodic nature of emotions and job performance in that it recognizes the inherent ebb and flow of moods and emotions throughout the workday as individuals are exposed to multiple affectively stimulating events. It is through examining the accumulating effects of multiple performance episodes and an individual’s corresponding affective experiences that AET proves most useful.

Finally, AET encompasses a model within its framework for understanding both proximal affective reactions to workplace events and the distal effects of trait affective dispositions. According to AET, the workplace environment (i.e., characteristics of the job and organization) leads to work events (e.g., having a meeting, writing a report) that, in turn, lead to affective reactions. These affective reactions are, in part, moderated by trait affective dispositions (PA & NA), and the effect of trait dispositions on work attitudes and behavior is mediated by affective reactions. In the original AET model, all affect-driven behaviors are considered the result of affective reactions. Recently, however, Weiss (2002) further distinguished that some behaviors result from the affective state itself, while other behaviors result from attempts to regulate affective states. Without fundamentally altering the original theory, this addition opens the way for affective dispositions to directly influence subsequent affect regulation behavior, whereas the original model does not make this explicit.

As such, AET has formed the theoretical basis for a number of recent workplace studies examining the dynamic relationship between work events and emotions within a single person during a workday. This use of “experience sampling” methodologies has allowed researchers to examine the independent effects of state affect beyond trait affect in relation to job attitudes and job performance.

Affect Infusion Model (AIM)

The Affect Infusion Model, or AIM (Forgas, 1995), was developed using an information processing approach to understanding the role of moods in the workplace. Essentially, AIM postulates that affective states motivate an individual to engage in specific cognitive strategies and direct attention toward mood-reinforcing information, which results in a specific affect congruent behavior or attitude. Appreciably, AIM offers a specific set of guidelines to identify when cognitive processes are likely to be infused with affect and when affect may play no role.

Critical to determining the impact of affect on workplace outcomes are the types of situational demands to which individuals must adapt and decisions that individuals must make to successfully achieve their goals in the workplace. The reason for this is that different types of cognitive processes allow different amounts of affect infusion (i.e., less structured or routine cognitive processes allow for more affect infusion than do more structured or repetitive cognitive tasks). It is essential, then, to understand what types of situations and decisions result in specific levels of affect infusion. Three sets of characteristics influence the type of processing in which a person is most likely to engage: (a) personal variables (e.g., personality, intelligence, and mood), (b) task characteristics (e.g., familiarity, typicality, complexity), and (c) situational features (e.g., demands, publicity, level of scrutiny).

When a decision is made, one of four types of processing will be engaged. First, direct access processing results when an individual needs to perform a habitual or routine task that follows a well-established set of actions or decisions (e.g., dialing a telephone, preparing a computer for normal use) and allows little, if any, affective infusion. Second, motivated processing occurs when an individual is motivated to make decisions designed to allow him or her to achieve a predetermined goal. In this case, there is little opportunity for affect to influence cognitive processes, as the individual has already decided what to do (e.g., helping a supervisor in the month preceding promotion). Third, heuristic processing is engaged when there are no preexisting rules or motivational goals regarding a particular action. This processing strategy is most commonly engaged when the individual has little or no investment in the outcome of an action and allows moderate levels of affect infusion. For example, if asked, “How are you doing?” by an acquaintance, a person may respond positively, neutrally, or negatively, depending on his or her current mood state, rather than engage in a more cognitively taxing thought process to determine how one is really doing. Fourth, substantive processing allows the greatest impact of current mood on thought processes. Substantive processing occurs when individuals must uncover and process new information. This open processing style frequently causes individuals to attend to affectively primed information that is mood congruent and is often unconsciously incorporated into judgments and planned behavior. For example, when tasked with developing recommendations on how to improve an organization’s relationship with employees, an employee might focus his or her work on reducing bureaucracy because of a recent negative experience with it, as opposed to addressing a potentially more critical inequity such as below-market compensation.

By determining the personal, situational, and task characteristics of an individual, it is possible using AIM to predict when emotions are likely to influence workplace attitudes and behavior. While limited workplace research uses the AIM for making predictions, it is clear that AIM provides a robust theoretical framework for making specific and testable hypotheses about the role of affect in the workplace.

Emotional Intelligence (EI)

Emotional intelligence (EI) is typically defined as an ability or set of abilities that enable an individual to recognize and manage their own, and others’, emotions. Although Peter Salovey and John Mayer (1990) first introduced the concept, Daniel Goleman (1997) brought EI to the public arena with his bestselling book. The concept has gained widespread attention from both practitioners and scientists, mainly due to its proposed relationships to work outcomes and general life achievement. In general, models of EI can be separated into two categories. One perspective is advocated by Mayer and Salovey (1997) who propose that EI is a pure ability similar in nature to intellectual ability. Their model is comprised of four abilities: (a) perceiving emotions, (b) using emotions, (c) understanding emotions, and (d) managing emotions. The levels are progressive, meaning that higher order EI abilities require lower level abilities to build upon. For instance, to be able to manage emotions, individuals must be able to first perceive, facilitate, and understand emotions. The second perspective is often referred to as a “mixed model,” which means that it includes both abilities and emotion relevant traits. Goleman’s popular theory of EI is an example, as it includes such nonabilities as self-confidence and integrity. Others (Tett, Fox, & Wang, 2005) adopt a trait approach to EI by assessing individual’s perceptions of emotional self-efficacy rather than actual ability. This distinction can be useful in determining, as the trait approach captures the motivational or “will do” component, while the ability approach captures talent or “can do” aspects of EI.

While EI has been proposed to be a determinate of many important work outcomes, including leadership and job performance, limited empirical evidence is available. To date, both ability- and trait-based EI measures have yielded limited results. For instance, those with higher ability EI were viewed as transformational leaders by their subordinates (Rubin, Munz, & Bommer, 2005). In a study by Wong and Law (2002), higher levels of a leader’s trait EI was linked to increased job satisfaction and citizenship behaviors. Additionally, studies examining both ability and trait EI have reported initial evidence that EI predicts job performance beyond the effects of intelligence and normal personality. While encouraging, these limited findings emphasize the need for additional research before any conclusive judgments can be made regarding the value of EI to organizations.

Emotional Labor

On a daily basis, funeral directors remain poised in front of grieving individuals, police officers and firefighters maintain their calm in the face of danger, and customer service representatives continue to be friendly with unruly customers. While these individuals are behaving in socially acceptable ways, for some individuals, there is a gap between the emotions they are displaying and the emotions they are actually experiencing. Arlie Hochschild (1983) brought this phenomenon to national awareness when she described this process of managing the gap between true emotion and emotional displays and labeled it “emotional labor.”

Many organizations encourage emotional labor as a mechanism for maintaining performance and customer satisfaction. As a result, organizations often reward individuals for maintaining appropriate emotions. For example, firefighters and police officers are awarded for bravery, whereas customer service representatives receive praise and recognition for going “above and beyond” the job duties for difficult clients. Alternately, inappropriate displays of emotions are carefully sanctioned by organizations. If a hot-tempered customer service representative responded unfavorably toward an unruly customer, the employee would most likely face negative consequences.

Research on emotional labor has produced contradicting evidence. Some findings suggest that emotional labor leads to stress or burnout, with researchers advocating for the reduction of emotional labor through appropriate stress management initiatives or by providing employees with personal control to determine their responses (Grandey, Fisk, & Steiner, 2005). Another set of findings concluded that employees view emotional labor as a component of the job, thereby resulting in little to no experience of stress. Additional research, perhaps investigating the cognitive component of emotional labor and how individuals frame their job duties, may lead to a more clear understanding of emotional labor’s outcomes. While important questions remain, it is clear that the degree to which individuals must manage their emotions at work will play an important role in determining how employees experience emotions in the workplace.

Research Findings And Applications


In order to stay ahead of industry standards, many organizations encourage innovation and creativity in the workplace. As we move from the informational age into a new age characterized by rapid change and conceptualization, employees capable of connecting information and providing novel solutions serve as organizational assets. Research on creativity suggests that creativity involves both cognitive and affective processes. Because the majority of research on creativity and has found that increased creativity to be associated with higher levels of PA, organizations seeking to enhance employees creativity should emphasize a work environment that promotes positive emotional experiences. For instance, employees should be provided with adequate resources and tools to accomplish their job, as well as the management support needed to implement creative solutions to problems. Additionally, if work assignments require creative thinking or analysis, managers should seek to be aware of employees’ negative emotional states, which often hinder creativity. When possible, managers can attempt to encourage positive emotions in employees by offering encouragement and support, which many studies have shown to enhance positive emotions.

Decision Making and Negotiation

Managers and employees make decisions on a daily basis, and some jobs require negotiation. While affective experiences are inherent throughout decision making and negotiation, a universal relationship between specific affective responses and effectiveness has yet to be determined. There are conflicting perspectives on the relationship between affect and decision making. One line of evidence suggests that employees in positive moods tend to process information more quickly, resulting in better decision making and negotiation outcomes. Similarly, others have found that increased presence of negative emotions decreases effectiveness in negotiation. Alternately, other research has shown that individuals who are more positive tend to be unrealistically optimistic, making them susceptible to overconfident assessments, while those in negative moods to tend to make more accurate decisions. Other researchers emphasize the critical affective interplay between the negotiator and the respondent in negotiation. In a study by Gibson and Fichman (2006), debt collectors were trained to identify whether or not the debtor displayed NA or PA. Then the collectors responded by encouraging respondents who displayed NA and threatening respondents who displayed PA. As a result, participants who reacted to the debtor’s emotional displays were more likely to reach agreements and gain debtor commitment for repayment. So while evidence regarding the role of affect in decision making and negotiation is mixed, it is clear that both processes are strongly influenced by it.

Job Performance

As early as the 1930s, managers noticed employees who were in better moods tended to extend their efforts above and beyond their job duties, and in some cases, even perform better. Today, the term organizational citizenship behavior (OCBs) is used to describe employees who advance their organization’s performance by exceeding the narrow confines of their specific job duties. For example, employees display OCBs by working overtime to meet deadlines or increasing morale by organizing employee social events. Research supports the belief that employees experiencing positive moods are more likely to engage in OCBs and also tend to be more productive at work (George, 1991). Findings have also linked increased job performance with high levels of affective commitment, which is characterized by an emotional attachment and sense of loyalty to an organization. Employees reporting greater affective commitment consistently display more OCBs and less counterproductive behaviors in organizations, ultimately leading to increased productivity. Alternately, high NA tends to be associated with cognitive overload and poor performance.

While organizational citizenship behaviors tend to increase job performance, counterproductive work behaviors have been shown to negatively impact job performance and organizational outcomes. Types of counterproductive work behaviors can be aimed at different targets, including organizations, supervisors, and coworkers. They also vary in type, ranging from tardiness and absenteeism to violence, theft, revenge, and abuse. Studies have found an association between counterproductive work behaviors and negative moods and emotions, in particular, anger, aggression, and hostility. To understand this process, Suzy Fox and Paul Spector (2004) proposed a stressor-emotion theory of counterproductive work behaviors. This model focuses on the interaction of organizational stressors, personality, sense of control, and emotions to explain counterproductive work behaviors. AET also provides theoretical groundwork for understanding counterproductive work behaviors, as the combination of events (stressors), cognitions (perceived control), and affective (evaluations) experiences influence behaviors.


Over time, many theories on how leaders interact with their followers have been proposed. Early studies of leadership focused on personality characteristics and identified sociability, intelligence, and insight as key traits of leaders. Subsequently, scholars expanded the study of leadership to include the connection between leaders and the environment. A number of studies showed that leaders could motivate followers through responding appropriately to situational demands by rewarding employees and establishing goals. More recently, researchers began to deemphasize the transactional nature of rewarding followers in favor of emphasizing transformational leadership, which centers on emotional and the relationship between leaders and followers.

Transformational leaders are thought to exhibit charisma, inspiring followers to grow and change in such a manner that facilitates the advancement of leaders’ vision. A key component of transformational leadership may include aspects of EI such as the ability to recognize emotions in others (Rubin et al., 2005). Studies have suggested transformation leaders are successful at spreading their own emotions (positive or negative) throughout a group as a means of motivating followers, a process referred to as “emotional contagion.” Transformational leaders will use a variety of methods for conveying emotion to followers, including symbols and their attached meanings (Ashforth & Humphrey, 1995). For instance, leaders who create an “open-door policy” use the symbol of an open door to communicate their availability and interest in connecting with employees. When leaders implement suggestion boxes and employee surveys, they show employees that they value their opinions, which serves to enhance the leader-follower relationship. Ultimately, the goal of these relationship-building initiatives is to enhance positive emotions and employee morale toward the leader and organization.


Employees experience a variety of emotions on the job, ranging from happiness to anger to shame. Due to the variation between types of emotions, Pinder (1998) suggested that different emotions elicit varied reactions in employees and serve as motivators on the job. For instance, happiness is associated with positive feelings, which are likely to lead to successful interpersonal relationships and helping behaviors at work. In contrast, shame is linked with embarrassment and humiliation, which often occurs when employees do not achieve established standards. When experiencing shame at work, employees may respond by extending additional effort to close the gap or by attributing their failure to other employees or to organizational systems. As evidenced, affective processes and discrete emotions play a role in employee motivation, with some research suggesting core affective experiences are an inherent component of motivation, impacting the direction, intensity, and persistence in achieving goals (Seo, Barret, & Bartunek, 2004).


Pressure to meet project deadlines, interact with difficult coworkers, and manage home and work responsibilities are common stressors for many employees. As a result, most employees are familiar with the physiological (e.g., loss or gain in appetite, exhaustion), mental (e.g., cognitive overload), and emotional (e.g., feeling overwhelmed, anxious) signs of stress. Given that emotions are an integral component of the very nature of stress, workplace events that increase negative emotions are likely to lead to increased levels of stress. Employees who are exposed to prolonged conditions of stress may become susceptible to burnout. Burnout consists of three dimensions: (a) emotional exhaustion, (b) depersonalization, and (c) diminished sense of personal accomplishment. High NA is associated with high levels of emotional exhaustion and depersonalization, as well as lower levels of personal accomplishment (Thoresen, Kaplan, Barsky, Warren, & de Chermont, 2003). Stress interventions created by managers and human resource departments are most effective when targeted at both individuals and the organization. Organizational interventions include job redesign, flex-time options, and workload adjustments, whereas individual interventions include training in personal coping strategies or time management. Creating positive emotional experiences at work is one way managers can attempt to reduce burnout—in particular, emotional exhaustion—and ultimately ensure continued employee productivity.


To replace employees who leave their job (either voluntarily or involuntarily) organizations need to recruit, select, and train new employees. While turnover can be effective in eliminating unproductive employees, voluntary turnover of productive and qualified employees is detrimental to the functioning of organizations. As a result, many organizations are interested in understanding the factors that lead to voluntary turnover. A large body of research suggests that employees will first develop intention to leave the organization before they actually quit their job. Researchers have identified dissatisfaction with pay, poor relationships with supervisors and coworkers, and decreased autonomy on the job as predictors of employees’ intention to leave an organization and, consequently, of turnover. In addition, affective experiences such as emotional exhaustion and affective commitment are linked to turnover intention, with Maertz and Griffeth (2004) suggesting that affect is one the driving forces in voluntary turnover. As such, when employees experience positive emotions on the job, they are more inclined to remain with the organization, whereas those experiencing negative emotions tend to leave.

Applications For Management Practice

Change Management

By our nature, humans tend to seek balance and control. For example, the human body consists of many systems for maintaining balance, or homeostasis. When people catch a cold, the infection strains their bodies, and they fight back with antibodies, eventually returning to a healthy state. During organizational changes, which include mergers, acquisitions, transformations, downsizing, and organizational restructuring, employees often sense a loss of balance or control and, by nature, they feel stress. With stress, some employees fight back, resisting change, while others adapt and move forward. Change managers play a crucial role in how employees respond to organizational changes. Research has suggested that effective change managers might use affect or emotion to create a sense of dissatisfaction with the current situation, such that employees are then motivated to seek out change and quickly adapt to a new situation. During times of change, managers who create more positive experiences at work are likely to find employees responding with less stress, less intention to leave, and increased affective commitment and job satisfaction.

Leadership Development

Many organizations provide leadership training for both their current leaders and their high potential employees who will eventually be placed in leadership roles. Leadership training covers a variety of topics, including administrative (e.g., strategic planning, time management), personal awareness (e.g., creating executive image, capitalizing on personal strengths), and interpersonal relations (e.g., communication, motivating employees). To build personal awareness, some programs train leaders to recognize their own affective tendencies and manage their emotions effectively (aspects of EI). For example, during times of crisis, successful leaders are often credited for maintaining composure, which is an appropriate display. As such, successful leaders may need to both understand and act on emotional display rules.

Leadership training also enables participants to understand how their emotions impact subordinates. Research investigating emotional contagion demonstrates that a leader’s emotions spread to their subordinates, and whether positive or negative, followers tend to adopt the emotional tone of their leader. Therefore, it is essential for leaders to be aware of the emotional undertones they are conveying and of the implications for their followers. Leaders who convey a calm and collected demeanor during crisis have a tendency to spread these sentiments throughout a group, while leaders who respond in panic are likely to provoke confusion and uncertainty. Affective displays can spread throughout a group or can be specific to an employee. In some situations, such as unexplained frequent tardiness, leaders may exhibit negative emotions (e.g., anger), thus evoking negative emotions in the subordinate (e.g., fear) that increase motivation to arrive on time. Other situations may require more sensitivity or the use of positive emotions. Leaders who understand the affective experiences of their employees are more likely to respond appropriately to their needs in a given situation. Leadership development programs that emphasize raising a leader’s awareness of emotions can provide leaders with an advantage in understanding themselves and their employees.

Romance in the Workplace

Attraction, lust, love, and passion are powerful emotions that add new dimensions when experienced between coworkers. Whether a workplace romantic relationship is the beginning of true love or quickly sours, it will certainly impact the couple, as well as their coworkers. This emerging line of research brings attention to romance in the workplace, exploring the intricacies of workplace romance as well as the implications for organizations. Often, workplace romance—and even the perception or impression of a relationship—can lead to gossip among employees (Powell & Foley, 1998). Engaging in gossip distracts employees from their work duties and may provide emotional strain as employees make judgments about the relationship. Because workplace romance introduces the potential for sexual harassment, many proactive organizations are creating workplace romance policies and sometimes have explicit policies forbidding them. Some human resource departments even take the step of asking couples to sign a corporate record, known as a “love contract,” to formally establish the beginning and end of their relationship in an effort to manage the legal implications of these relationships.


Organizations are challenged to select high-performing applicants who are a solid “fit” with the organization. Anecdotally, most would agree that the outgoing salesperson, happy customer service representative, and well-composed police officer are likely to be high performers at work, whereas anxious, careless, and disagreeable employees are likely to evoke unfavorable reactions from supervisors, subordinates, and clients. Others may have experienced a new employee who did not “fit-in” with coworkers or department norms and voluntarily left the organization shortly after they were hired. Yet, selecting the “right” employees involves more than just relying on experience or anecdotal evidence. Employee selection requires careful consideration of applicants through the use of rigorous and validated methodology.

Selection systems often include a battery of assessments, and applicants are screened for cognitive ability, aptitude, skills, past performance, and personality. While cognitive abilities and past performance are key factors in employee selection, research also showed that affective traits can predict employee performance. For example, emotional stability (i.e., low neuroticism, or low NA) is linked with team dynamics, counterproductive work behaviors, and motivation. Employees high in emotional stability tend to function more effectively in teams and report higher levels of motivation, whereas those low in emotional stability exhibit more counterproductive work behaviors. As employee and organizations match each other’s interests and goals, employees are likely to experience positive affective states on the job, longer organizational tenure, and career success.

Violence in the Workplace

Although the frequency of violence in the workplace does not match the hyperintensive media coverage of such events, the presence of workplace violence warrants serious examination. Neuman and Baron (1998) presented a model of workplace aggression, which demonstrates how cultural norms and specific events, combined with personality traits, emotions, and cognition, may lead to aggressive behavior. Other studies have supported their rationale, as negative emotions, aggression, and hostility are associated with workplace violence. To prevent workplace violence, Neuman and Baron encouraged managers to create a fair and safe work environment, providing employees with adequate resources (e.g., employee assistance programs, mental health benefits) and training to enhance employees’ ability to manage stressful situations and negative emotions.

Cross Cultural Aspects Of Emotions

When studying individual differences such as affective experiences, researchers often conduct crosscultural studies. Research findings advance our understanding of basic human nature if a phenomenon occurs in individuals across multiple cultures, given that it exists in diverse environments and societies. For instance, in an international study of U.S. and French service workers, participants reported more job satisfaction and less emotional exhaustion as they were provided more autonomy and freedom at work, despite the well-noted cultural differences between the United States and France (Grandey et al., 2005). Such findings support the idea that humans are happier when they can live the way they choose to, rather than being restricted by outside influences. In the event that a phenomenon does reproduce across cultures, researchers may conclude that environmental factors play a larger role in shaping the phenomenon. One example might come from research showing that employees respond to teamwork differently in collective versus individualistic societies, thus demonstrating the impact of cultural values on individual’s perceptions of teamwork.

In an effort to identify whether or not basic emotions are indeed universal cultures, Paul Ekman (2007), a leading researcher in emotion, conducted dozens of crosscultural studies of facial emotional expression. In his research, Ekman asked participants to identify facial expressions demonstrating distinct emotional states (e.g., fear, sadness, joy). Regardless of their culture, participants were able to identify the emotional expressions using the same cues (e.g., smile, facial configuration), suggesting that basic emotions may exist. Therefore, Ekman suggested a set of universal human emotions that includes anger, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, and surprise. While researchers debate on the number of basic emotions and whether or not basic emotions limit the study of emotion, Ekman’s work has created widespread interest in understanding the cross-cultural aspects of emotions. For instance, Gelfland, Nishii, and Raver (2006) proposed the strength of societal, organizational, and individual norms (e.g., social behavioral expectations) along with the level of tolerance for breaking the norms will influence organizational outcomes and individual behavior. While this theory has yet to be extensively tested, it offers parameters for studying the relationship between social norms and emotional display rules. Research advancing this theory might explore the impact of emotional display rules and emotional labor in organizational cultures with low tolerance for social norm deviation.

Collectively, cross-cultural research lends to a more comprehensive understanding of human nature, as well as the environmental and social forces that impact human behavior. The findings of cross-cultural research can be used to advance effectiveness in applied settings as well. Managers and employees engaging in cross-cultural exchanges might benefit from increased awareness of cultural differences and variation. In understanding cultural differences, adjustments to interpersonal communication and work practices can be made in effort to build relationships with foreign clients. Because cultural expressions of emotions differ, knowledge of these social norms and appropriate responses may serve to limit the likelihood of miscommunication. Many misunderstandings and conflicts may arise from unintended violations of cultural norms that stem from reliance on ingrained cultural expectations.

Organizations involved in international business exchange often train their employees in the customs, traditions, and social norms of other countries before employees interact with foreign clients. During these training programs, employees learn social norms and etiquette of their clients and may experience emotional labor as they perform appropriate display rules instead of their true emotions. Taking international business exchange to another level, some organizations ask employees to experience total cultural immersion by assigning them to work as expatriates in a foreign country. Research has shown that employees who experience high levels of PA tended to adjust well in a new culture. In contrast, employees who experience more NA often reported difficulty adjusting to their new work environment and experienced increased thoughts of leaving the organization (Shaffer, Harrison, Gregerson, Black, & Ferzandi, 2006).

While employees make concessions for cross-cultural interactions, adjustments at the organizational level also occur. In the event that organizations move operations into other countries through off-shoring, work functions such as employee training and development, departmental structure, performance evaluation, and reward systems may require adjustments to reduce potential cross-cultural conflicts. These functions might be designed to maximize positive emotional responses within a given culture. For instance, in performance evaluations, managers may adjust their feedback style to fit cultural communication norms as a means of avoiding negative emotional responses. At an organizational level, leaders could consider employees affective responses to reward systems and departmental structure (e.g., degree of collaboration, reporting structure, etc.) as cultural norms may play a role in employee preferences. With technological advancements increasing the ability to communicate with those in other countries, the world is more interconnected. Organizations engaging in international business are increasingly seeing cross-cultural research as a resource for identifying cultural differences in attitudes, norms, and emotions in an effort to improve their business practices.

Directions For Future Research

This research-paper opened with an overview of the historical hostility that has faced individuals interested in exploring the place of emotion in organizational life. While this is no longer the prevalent attitude among businesses, most do not fully appreciate the powerful roles that emotions have in influencing critical aspects of work (e.g., job performance, creativity, turnover). As findings from current research confirm the relationships between employees’ emotions and their behavior in organizations, one thing becomes very clear: The debate is over; emotions are both relevant to effective management, and managers who ignore them do so at their own risk.

While it is clear that emotions are important, there are a number of ways in which future research might increase our understanding of how emotion both influences and is caused by organizational forces. One of the key challenges for managers looking to increase their understanding of emotions in the workplace will be through their need to identify ways in which emotion-relevant aspects of the job are identified. The purpose of a job analysis is to identify job tasks as well as the basic knowledge, skills, and abilities required to accomplish job tasks. Organizations use job analysis as a basis for employee selection and promotion, training program development, and performance evaluation standards. Currently, job analysis techniques focus on job skills and abilities, as well as on tacit knowledge. While this information is beneficial to managers, incorporating affective experiences into the job analysis might enhance understanding of the nature of specific jobs. Given that some jobs may require certain affective traits and emotions, investigating the involvement of affective experiences for specific job categories may serve several purposes. First, it may provide employers with more comprehensive realistic job previews, outlining the nature of the emotional components of the job for applicants. Second, understanding affective experiences of the job enables organizations to intervene and prevent negative affective experiences such as emotional exhaustion and decreased affective commitment. Finally, organizations might design selection measures to identify characteristics of successful employees (e.g., EI, trait PA, and NA).

Researchers who are interested in investigating emotions in organizations also face a number of key challenges. In particular, the recent theories of emotional processes in activities like job performance challenge our conventional research designs and call for the use of increasingly powerful and sophisticated methodologies and statistics. In particular, AET is suited for exploring the emotional process within individual levels, as well as between individuals. While some limited research has already been done, continued efforts should be made to investigate the cumulative effects of daily work events and hassles on important topics like employee turnover and job performance. These longitudinal studies offer a number of key benefits that are missing from most of our current knowledge—specifically, the ability to understand the individual processes that a specific person experiences as opposed to typical cross-sectional research designs. Additionally, studies examining within-subjects data may reveal a host of relationships that were obscured by between-subjects individual differences and situational features. Although individual level longitudinal research is now feasible, it is still relatively new to most organizational researchers and requires significant investments of time and effort on the part of both the researcher and the study participants. Yet the benefits in terms of increased knowledge easily make the effort worthwhile.


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