As this chapter has shown, emotions are an inevitable part of people’s behavior at work. At the same time, people may not feel comfortable expressing all emotions at work. The reason might be that business culture and etiquette remain poorly suited to handling overt emotional displays.
The question is: Can organizations become more intelligent about emotional management? Is it ever appropriate to yell, laugh, or cry at work? Some people are skeptical about the virtues of emotional displays in the workplace. Emotions are automatic, physiological responses to the environment, and as such, they can be difficult to control appropriately. One 22-year-old customer service representative named Laura, who was the subject of a case study, noted that fear and anger were routinely used as methods to control employees at her workplace, and the employees deeply resented this
manipulation and wanted to act out. In another case, the chairman of a major television network made a practice of screaming at employees whenever anything went wrong, leading to hurt feelings and a lack of loyalty to the organization. Like Laura, workers at this organization were hesitant to show their true reactions to these emotional outbursts for fear of being branded as “weak” or “ineffectual.” Research indicated that while employees who could regulate their emotions would refrain from acting
on their anger, employees who were low in self-regulation and didn’t think the boss would do anything were likely to retaliate. It might seem like these individuals worked in highly emotional workplaces, but in fact, only a narrow range of emotions was deemed acceptable at work. Anger appears to be more acceptable than sadness in many organizations, despite the serious maladaptive consequences.
Many people find their negative reaction to hearing an angry outburst lasts, making it difficult for them to concentrate at work. Organizations that recognize and work with emotions effectively may be more creative, satisfying, and productive. For example, Laura noted that if she were able to express her hurt feelings without fear, she would have been much more satisfied with her work. In other words, the problem with Laura’s organization was not that emotions were displayed, but that emotional displays were handled poorly. Others note that the use of emotional knowledge—like the ability to read and understand the reactions of others—is crucial for workers, ranging from
salespeople and customer service agents all the way to managers and executives. One survey even found that 88 percent of workers felt that being sensitive to the emotions of others is an asset. Management consultant Erika Anderson notes, “Crying at work is transformative and can open the door to change.” The question then is: Can organizations take specific steps to become better at
allowing emotional displays without opening Pandora’s box of outbursts?
4-14. Do you think the strategic use and display of emotions serve to protect employees or does covering your true emotions at work lead to more problems than it solves?
4-15. Have you ever worked where the free expression of emotion was part of the management style?
Describe the advantages and disadvantages of this approach from your experience.
4-16. Research shows that the acts of coworkers (37 percent) and management (22 percent) cause more negative emotions for employees than do acts of customers (7
percent). What can Laura’s company do to change its emotional climate?
Sources: E. Bernstein, “Why People Have Big Explosions for Very Small Reasons,” The Wall Street
Journal, October 16, 2012, D1, D2; A. Kreamer, “Go Ahead—Cry at Work,” Time, April 4, 2010,
www.time.com; J. S. Lerner and K. Shonk, “How Anger Poisons Decision Making,” Harvard Business
Review (September 2010): 26; H. Lian, D. J. Brown, D. L. Ferris, L. H. Liang, L. M. Keeping, and
R. Morrison, “Abusive Supervision and Retaliation: A Self-Control Framework,” Academy of Management Journal 57, no. 1 (2014): 116–39; S. Shellenbarger, “When the Boss Is a Screamer,” The Wall Street Journal, August 15, 2012, D1–D2; and J. Perrone and M. H. Vickers, “Emotions as Strategic Game in a Hostile Workplace: An Exemplar Case,” Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal 16, no. 3 (2004): 167–78.
We can do it today.