Motivation and emotion/Book/2018/Negative emotion in the workplace

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Negative emotions in the workplace:
What are the most problematic negative emotions in the workplace and what can be done about them?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Have you ever experienced negativity at workplace and the way this affect you and act as hindrance to your daily life? Events at workplace can have a major impact on people and therefore these emotions could trigger disruptions and responsible for unfavourable outcomes. The question that arises is - how this type of environment (negative) takes place and what could be done about them? Although, it is important to create a publicly observable and healthy emotional display as a part of job role.[grammar?]

The purpose of this chapter is to help people understand how these emotions are triggered and the way an individual should respond at workplace settings.Various theories and relevant concepts have been discussed in terms of how negative emotions takes place and the way it affects physiologically (stress, anxiety)and adds toxicity to the workplace . Study of negative emotions in the workplace has been seen as a near[say what?] science, with books and journals written on the topic to help understand the role it plays.[grammar?]

Focus questions

  • What are negative emotions?
  • How to deal with negative emotions?

Background of workplace emotions and the role they play at workplace[edit | edit source]

Earlier organisational theorists ignored the fact that emotions play a critical role and assumed that they interfere with administrative rationality (Gopinath, 2011). Also, emotions were only focused in terms of job satisfaction and employee wellbeing. Lately, it has been recognised that [missing something?] workplace is fully saturated with emotions and they are inseparable and daily encountered aspect in the organisational life (Ashforth & Humphrey, 1995).

Emotion is a state of complex feeling associated with abrupt[say what?] thought processes and physiological stimulation which in turn influence behaviour (Gopinath, 2011). Ekman proposed the main perspective on emotions that evolution has helped in shaping various types of emotions which are different from one another (Schiopu, 2015). Barsade & Gipson (2007) used affect as a term for describing a wide range of emotions and says that emotions are contagious and are like virus (Schiopu, 2015). According to him, positive affect (emotions) explains how much an individual feels active, alert and enthusiastic and high positive affect indulgence and concentration,whereas low positive affect include lethargy and sadness component. The negative affect on the other hand includes anguish, fear guilt, disgust and contempt (Watson, Clark & Tellegan, 1998). Overall, these emotions impact the organisations ability in terms of decision making , negotiation , creativity and job performance (Barsade & Gipson,2007).

Figure 2: Collaboration at workplace

Managing emotions at workplace play a crucial role in the business environment and help the managers and employees to deal with the dynamic changes. It also requires the following abilities such as unintentional engagement or detachment from a particular emotion, open to unpleasant and pleasant emotion ,mindful control of emotion towards oneself, power of managing emotions by turning negative emotions into positive ones (Mayer & Salovey,1997). It also helps to understand and recognise the emotions and the use of emotional intelligence to control his/herself and maintain the healthy relationship with each other(Boateng & Agyei et al., 2013). Concerning this, organisations should train their employees to enhance their interpersonal skills and to perform the job effectively. Negative results arise if the employees are asked to control their emotions and to suppress them as this leads to an environment where the employees do not treat their co-workers in appropriate way and so it affects the organisation (Hochschiild,1983).

What types of emotions do people encounter at workplace and how they can be managed?[edit | edit source]

According to Mathur, Natahani & Sarvate (2013 cited in Schiopu, 2015) suggests that its really difficult to determine whats going in one's mind and though their are ways to identify them, therefore this explains that though determining emotions is difficult but their role at work cannot be underestimated. Emotions develop due to interacting socially and are also affected by interpersonal, situational, social and cultural conditions (Chu, 2002).

Emotional Labor[edit | edit source]

People usually suppress their feelings and emotions so as to exhibit a behaviour that is socially acceptable and inhibiting these emotions just to fit into organisational demands or norms is what Hoschschild termed as "Emotional Labor". It is defined as a control of one's behaviour in order to create an observable body and facial display (Hochschild, 1983) while Barsade & Gipson categorised the emotional labour into two parts, one is termed as "surface acting". For instance, airline customer service agents forces themselves to smile and remain calm in those situation even when dealing with angry customers who have lost their baggage on airport whereas the other part is "deep acting" in which emotions are exhibited by employees when they have worked on feelings and in the scenario of airport customer service agent, the tired worker shows empathy to customers and take their loss serious. According to Barsade, the second approach is healthier and appropriate, as their will be no stress and burnout in this case, mainly emotional tiredness from having to control one's emotions. It is also mentioned in a study which utilised the day reconstruction model and which found the evidence and support some of the predictions of affective events theory that coping emotions at work, meaning managing emotions could only have short term results on task performance.[1] Also, these implication suggests that these are not real feelings as people are supposed to accept the organisation and social standards and so hide them .So the question that arises is : Will it be appropriate for organisations if they permit their employees to freely express their emotions at workplace? Labroo & Mukhopadhyay (2009 cited in Boateng & Agyei et al.,2013) answered this question and mentioned that if people are allowed to freely express and given a choice, they will exhibit behaviour in a way that accomplishes their immediate affect-regulation objectives. In response to this, employees will go for behaviours that have immediate results of their feelings. Therefore, managers make their employees to have control on their emotions which suit their job demands and which is also beneficial for organisation to accomplish its targets. It is mentioned in international journal of human resource studies that organisations should take care of their employees in relation to suppressing their feelings as due to this, employees may explode or boil with emotions which can be harmful for an organisation and co-workers. Furthermore, negative emotions are experienced more than positive ones and are caused due to communication that is not appropriate (blaming, yelling), by lack of empowerment,lack of respect (Boateng & Agyei et al., 2013).

Management of Emotions[edit | edit source]

The IEM (Interpersonal management scale) concentrate on managing negative emotions in others and the management of others negative emotions in the workplace are essential in areas such as feedback on performance,organisational change,teamwork,client relationships, follower-leader relationships (Devdutt J, 2018).A framework has been proposed for interpersonal emotion regulation which considered three dimensions of motivations at work. These show regulation is motivated by autonomy (intrinsic vs.extrinsic), competence (performance vs.pleasure oriented), relatedness (pro-social vs. egoistic) needs. Eight possible categories have been suggested if these dimensions are combined, they are compassion motives, emotional labour motives, instrumentality motives, coaching motive, identity construction motive, hedonism motive, conformity motive, impression management motive. Also, a measure construct has been put forward which contains four factor based sub scales: increasing soothing affect, positive affect, social modelling, perspective taking (Devdutt J, 2018) helping in determining the individual emotions. According to international journal of community medicine and public health, a comprehensive model should include both emotion labour and emotion work in regards to emotion regulation at work and theirs a need to examine the differences between interaction with clients which is usually short lasting and with co-workers which is longer term and evolves over time.

Management of emotions should not be analysed just through the professional conduct displays but also which fits in general social rules that affect organisational life. So, all emotional regulation processes should not be regarded as emotional labour. It has also been noted that Interpersonal emotion regulation has been mostly studied in customer-employee or leader-follower relationships and less in regards to relationships with co-workers (Devdutt J, 2018).

Mental Health and emotional regulation at work: Emotional disorders are the disturbances in emotion regulation and often seen in mental health settings. This aspect concerning the mental health at work of individuals need to be taken serious.According to previous researches done on mental health at work, they focused mostly on negative aspects and their regulation through interpersonal processes while newer research believes that imbalance of positive emotions in emotional disorders needs testing. People most of times express the issues in clinical settings related to psychological distress which are mainly concerned with interpersonal as well as intrapersonal affect regulation.Their is a need to explore more about emotion regulation processes and an advanced understanding that can utilise in psychological interventions.As mentioned in journal, review of guidelines on workplace mental health unveils that these these did not concentrate on prevention but mainly on treatment and detection of mental health problems.Research on frequently occurring interpersonal emotion regulation processes can achieve more ways for development of preventive programs that can help in building a supportive environment and which enhance productivity (Boateng & Agyei, 2013).

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Check your knowledge[edit | edit source]

1 IEM (Interpersonal emotion management) scale concentrate on managing negative emotions in others? True or False?


2 What is emotion labour according to Hoschschild ?

Controlling of feelings in order to conform to occupation norms or demands of the job.
State of feeling which brings out many changes that influence thought and behaviour.
Controlling of person's behaviour in order to display acceptable behaviour
None of the above mentioned

3 Earlier organisational theorists thought emotions were only focused in terms of?

Organisational goals
Decision making
Job satisfaction and well being

Job Satisfaction is negatively associated with job insecurity[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Job satisfaction[edit | edit source]

It is also called employee satisfaction and is a crucial organisational construct, it measures workers satisfaction regarding his/her job facets such as work nature and surroundings and supervision. Hulin and Judge (2003) suggested that job satisfaction contains multidimensional psychological responses and that these response have affective, behavioural and cognitive components.Also , it is a reflection of the good treatment of employers towards you and is an expression of organisational functioning.Various organisations nowadays,use surveys which include the employee opinions and which scales the job satisfaction level, commitment to organisation and employee's well being .Most of the researches were done with questionnaires in relation to measuring the job satisfaction and the main elements that affect the job satisfaction are rewards, coworkers and nature of the work (Schiopu, 2015). However , according to a research job attitudes such as job satisfaction are short term results while behavioural responses are long term effects.

Job insecurity[edit | edit source]

Job insecurity is one of the most prominent triggers at workplace and relates to having negative effects and most commonly researched topic in terms of job satisfaction. The psychological implication of job insecurity is quite diverse since the more an employee worries about losing his/her job , the more their mental capability is lowered and also the more cases of physical health complaints(Vander Elst and De Witte, 2013).The effect of job insecurity equally affect the employers brand and public reputation which can be detrimental to the performance of the organisation.Job insecurity does not act as a motivation to the employees' efforts but rather a signal of a potential layoff. Job insecurity is a social phenomenon that demonstrates the uncertainty that occurs when one lacks the assurance of their job stability(Montes, Rousseau & Tomprou, 2015). According to psychological contract theory, job insecurity affects employees behaviour and their commitment towards the organisation.It is a violation of the employment contracts by the employers hence affects their perception and attitude of the employers business(Montes, Rousseau & Tomprou, 2015).It is a threat to the employees' status and efforts to the company. The social identity perspective to job insecurity equally threatens the employee's social identity and consequently affects their performance at the workplace. Social identity theory emphasises that the development and training intended for improving the employees' performance depends on how the employee think and how they are perceived in the organisation.Job insecurity usually demotivates and drains the energy needed to embrace capacity development programs.Social identity is a crucial driver for improving the performance of the organisation(Selenko & Stride, 2017).

Job insecurity is associated with psychosomatic symptoms and loss of self-esteem which can negatively impact on employees' health and his/her overall well-being[factual?]. The cases of hypertension and other myocardial deaths seen at the workplace.This can make employees redundant and consequently affects their performance at the workplace.Job insecurity affects the performance of the organisations because of the lack of goodwill and care from the employers (Montes, Rousseau &Tomprou, 2015). This can make the organisations incur high costs associated with a high number of employees seeking health services and also it can cause employees to be non- complaint even to the set occupational safety regulations at the workplace.

The Jahoda's latent deprivation model asserts that the likelihood of a possible job loss can detrimentally affect the satisfaction needs and the social contact of an employee. Usually, employees are motivated when they are assured of the stability of their jobs, thus, they endeavour to perform at the workplace(Tajfel, 2010). The model views employment to be universally beneficial to the company (Tajfel, 2010). The sense of self is also another important psychological implication of job insecurity. It is important to note that what to do is a crucial aspect of who we are in the society and also to the organisation.Job insecurity threatens the way an employee thinks among his/her employees.The unemployed tend to be alienated and suffer from psychological distress since they feel lesser,than usual (Tajfel, 2010).The cumulative effect of trauma and insomnia as a result of the feeling of seclusion which usually also affects the employees' behaviour at the workplace. It also makes employees'to be less effective thus affecting the performance of the organisation too. Despite, the future income loss, the colleagues ' relationships and the ability to finish work on time , job insecurity has a pervasive effect on the employees which consequently make them insecure and emotional on how they relate with their peers not only at the workplace but also in the society(Ervasti & Venetoklis, 2010). An employee can be very defensive and a feeling of exclusion from the working group. The stigmatisation that comes with job insecurity can adversely frustrate the employee and how they relate with others in the company. The stigmatisation can be detrimental to the image and brand of an organisation on the notion that they are sensitive on their employees' well- being or welfare(Huang, 2017). According to the social exchange theory, the interactions between the employers and employees are usually base on the rewards or the punishment estimates expected from each party or among the employees.Job insecurity is a sign of punishment or disapproval feeling on the part of the employees from the employers and therefore it can negatively affect the organisational behaviour (Burgess & Huston,2013).Where the punishment outweigh the rewards, the company can incur unexpected costs resulting from mass disobedience or moral disengagement. The job insecurity breeds hostile interactions because of the employees' feeling of non-gratification from the employers, and this can change the behaviour and the manner in which the employee executes his/her duties at the organisation.

Job insecurity has the potential to change in which an employee perceives the way the employer treats he/she.According to the moral disengagement theory, dehumanisation that arises from employers' behaviour can make them feel unworthy to the employer and therefore it an initiate defiance on the code of conduct as stipulated on the employment contracts. The aspect of dehumanisation has a negative psychological impact on how the employee reacts to problems at the workplace(Reisel frustrations can affect the efficiency of the workforce because of the difficulties in concentrating on a particular project at a time.

Main emotional theories discussed:

  • Social Identity theory
  • Social exchange theory
  • Moral disengagement theory

It is natural that what comes to the mind of the employee on possible retrenchment or layoff is looking for the next alternatives for possible exit or transfer. The challenge that comes with job hunting and the frustrations involved can make an employee suffer from trauma even before being served with the notice. Generally, change is always a stressful process, and the imagination of transiting from employment to unemployed can psychologically disorient the employee(Huang and Wang, 2017).

Five types of emotions which are hard to handle[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. An example of frustration in the workplace.

[Provide more detail]

Frustration[edit | edit source]

This[what?] is one of the most common form of negative workplace emotions and can build up in many situations like when the organisation has limited opportunities related to promotion and make the employee feel stuck in a job ,or in the case of dealing with difficult manager at work(Fisher & Ashkanasy, 2000).

Anger[edit | edit source]

Anger doesn't necessarily involve physical harm.In the workplace, anger is expressed through bullying,rude behaviour, sarcastic comments, belittling others and sabotaging.It could destruct the relations ,unless otherwise managed on time. Moreover, in some cases it is a symptom of depression, substance abuse and insecurity.

Worry or uncertainty[edit | edit source]

Some changes at work often make us feel nervous or insecure and also affect our self- esteem. These changes lead us to worry and the reasons which enhance the feelings of agitation are:

  • Getting to know an unpleasant rumour.
  • Being informed about a new manager who will take the major role and will lead.
  • Have been assigned a new project.

However, learning ways to cope with this problem is a positive way to take some control over this feeling (Fisher & Ashkanasy, 2000).

Feeling of worthlessness[edit | edit source]

This feeling comes when someone feels down or has a bad day. This can cause due to various reasons such as decreased energy levels, feeling guilty or not receiving the love from their loved ones,having loads of work pending(to do list).Furthermore , not being praised for the good achievement or due to personal circumstances can trigger the feeling of unworthiness.This interferes with the individuals work productivity and lessens their self- confidence(Fisher & Ashkanasy, 2000).

Dislike[edit | edit source]

We all have someone who doesn't like someone's personality and dislike the person from our personal point of view such as a rude manager, demanding trainer, a boss who doesn't appreciate for a job well done .However, theirs a need to work effectively with each other without displaying our emotions and negatively affect others.

How do negative emotions relate to success?[edit | edit source]

  • Frustration tolerance is necessary for growth and development in kids as this enables them to cope with the enhanced levels of frustration while they are taking step toward success.
  • This also helps to learn skills like innovation and improvement.
  • Negative emotion needs to be experienced to become resilient and own our mistakes (Zeidner, Matthews, & Roberts, 2004)
  • Perseverance - Be comfortable with the negative emotion or delay in success as it helps in individual growth and make them determined.

Ways to respond to negative emotion[edit | edit source]

  • Managing emotion in the workplace: Traditionally, organisations place an emphasis on teaching rational and logical thinking but neglect emotional learning as a part of their programs. However, today's organisational coaches are being trained and work with leaders to help them understand what effect their moods and emotions have on their behaviour, performance and relationships (Morris & Feldman, 1997).
  • Teach them techniques to manage their emotions effectively and create emotional spaces (Zeidner, Matthews & Roberts, 2004).
  • Emotional intelligence

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Negative emotions at workplace is a regular occurrence and an occupational hazard and in the organisations, where people are emotionally intelligent and are good handlers is a huge benefit to the organisation and these people can bring good to workplace by eliminating the toxicity by utilising various emotion regulation techniques. Furthermore, dealing with the emotions effectively at workplace help employees in managing stress and maintaining psychological well-being. Stress levels and well-being could not only be accomplished by reducing the work level but also by enhancing the personal resources of employees, including emotional intelligence.

See all[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Petrides, K.V., Furnham, A. (2000). On the dimensional structure of emotional intelligence. Personality and Individual Differences. 29, 313–320. (2018). [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Sep. 2018].

Emotions at work. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Sep. 2018].

MIT Sloan Management Review. (2018). The Smart Way to Respond to Negative Emotions at Work. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Sep. 2018]. (2018). Emotions in the workplace. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Sep. 2018].

Bayne, G. and Bayne, G. (2018). WHY NEGATIVE EMOTIONS ARE NECESSARY FOR SUCCESS. [online] Total Leader and Coach Solutions Australia. Available at: [Accessed 1 Sep. 2018]. (2018). Coaching: How to Manage Emotions in the Workplace. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Sep. 2018].

Commons, M. L. (2007). Bringing about changes in workplace behavior. Behavioral Development Bulletin, 13, 35-42.

Nowack, K., & Deal, J. J. (2017). Tired of being fatigued? Introduction to the Special Issue. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice And Research, 69, 63-65.

Zeidner, M., Matthews, G., & Roberts, R. (2004). Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace: A Critical Review. Applied Psychology, 53, 371-399.

Devdutt, J., & Mehrotra, S. (2018). Emotions at work and mental health: emerging directions.

Church, A.H., Dawson, L.M., Barden, K.L., Fleck, C.R., Rotolo, C.T., Tuller, M. (2018). Enhancing 360-Degree Feedback for Individual Assessment and Organization Development: Methods and Lessons from the Field. In D. Noumair, A. Rami Shani (Eds.) Research in Organizational Change and Development, 26, 47–97.

Halperin, E., & Pliskin, R. (2015). Emotions and Emotion Regulation in Intractable Conflict: Studying Emotional Processes Within a Unique Context. Political Psychology, 36, 119-150.

Boateng, I., & Agyei, A. (2014). Employee’s Emotions: A Manageable Weapon for Organizations. International Journal Of Human Resource Studies, 3, 256.

Grandey, A. (2000). Emotional regulation in the workplace: A new way to conceptualize emotional labor. Journal Of Occupational Health Psychology, 5, 95-110.

Nowack, K., & Deal, J. (2018). Tired of being fatigued? Introduction to the Special Issue.

Bennett, R. J., & Robinson, S. L. (2000). Development of a measure of workplace deviance. Journal of applied psychology, 85(3), 349.

Burgess, R. L., & Huston, T. L. (Eds.). (2013). Social exchange in developing relationships. Elsevier

Huang, G. H., Wellman, N., Ashford, S. J., Lee, C., & Wang, L. (2017). Deviance and exit: The organizational costs of job insecurity and moral disengagement. Journal of Applied Psychology, 102(1), 26.

Montes, S. D., Rousseau, D. M., & Tomprou, M. (2015). Psychological Contract Theory. Wiley Encyclopedia of Management, 1-5.

Selenko, E., Mäkikangas, A., & Stride, C. B. (2017). Does job insecurity threaten who you are? Introducing a social identity perspective to explain well‐being and performance consequences of job insecurity. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 38(6), 856-875.

Tajfel, H. (Ed.). (2010). Social identity and intergroup relations. Cambridge University Press.

Ashforth BE,Humphrey RH. Emotion in the workplace: A reppraisal. Hum Relat.1995;48(2):97-125

Tamir M.Why do people regulate their emotions?A taxonomy of motives in emotion regulation.Pers Soc Psychol Rev.2016;20(3):199-222

Barsade, S.G. and gibson,D.E.(2007).Why does Affect Matter in organisations?. Academy of Management Perspectives,36-59.

External links[edit | edit source]

  1. Devdutt, Janhavi; Mehrotra, Seema (2018-03-23). "Emotions at work and mental health: emerging directions". International Journal Of Community Medicine And Public Health 5 (4): 1233–1238. doi:10.18203/2394-6040.ijcmph20181196. ISSN 2394-6040.