Showing posts with label emotion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label emotion. Show all posts

Monday, 10 March 2014

How the green-eyed monster colours our perceptions

The flush of envy - pain at another's good fortune - is a common experience in many a workplace. This emotion can disrupt wellbeing, heighten turnover, and contribute to poorer group performance. John Veiga and colleagues felt that existing models for evaluating workplace emotions give an incomplete account of envy, which is intimately linked to cognition and social standing. In a new article, they propose a new take on the green-eyed monster.

Veiga's model begins with a felt appraisal triggered by a situation: a painful feeling that may not be understood, but is certainly unwelcome. On its heels follow a pair of cognitive processes, social comparison and a memory search for existing schemas. Social comparison takes that felt appraisal and asks what it means for the person’s environment: does another person's success threaten my own social standing? When an individual’s own standing is particularly vague or precarious, then this is likely to be a primary focus.

Schemas, meanwhile, are the maps of reality that we organise and live by, from 'how to deal with bureaucracy' to ‘I’m always the bridesmaid, never the bride.' As envy-inducing events reoccur - as they surely do for all but the most enlightened - we are presented with opportunities to fold them into schemas such as 'the newcomers always get more recognition for work I do just as well'. As the events are emotionally charged, the schema into which they coalesce is a powerful thing that fuses past experience with interpretation. When the schema is activated its reading of the world floods into awareness to colour the existing moment, making it harder to see things as they are, rather than as validation of 'the way things must be.'

After thoughts, action. Affect-driven behaviours are the spontaneous ways we relieve the tension of a painful emotion, and include a sudden outburst or muttered curses. Another way to manage the emotion is through delayed, premeditated actions like spreading malicious rumours, engaging in plots or sabotage; these are especially shaped by schemas, which cry out for you to make good on your long-standing fantasies of turning the tables. Bad news for the person, the relationship, and the organisation.

58% of 278 survey respondents from hundreds of companies had experienced an envy-eliciting event with detrimental consequences, and this model helps us understand why this is so common. Notable is the role of social comparison, which helps the flash of envy become something more serious. At work, your social standing isn't just an ego issue, but can involve the way you are treated by others, what you are paid, and potentially even your survival within your organisation. What's more, organisations like to make successes as visible as possible, through prizes, employee of the month schemes, bonuses and mentions. Much research attention is paid to the benefits of this for recipients, but less so for the deleterious effects on those who are passed over.

This new model helps us get serious about understanding the impact of envy, and could help us understand why in some instances a low level of envy can be useful. Further research would need to look at how we may compensate for threats to social standing by demonstrating fair and legitimate means to restore standing, such as by ensuring that rewards, ratings and recognition are made transparent and understandable to all.

ResearchBlogging.orgVeiga, J., Baldridge, D., & Markóczy, L. (2014). Toward greater understanding of the pernicious effects of workplace envy The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 1-18 DOI: 10.1080/09585192.2013.877057

Friday, 24 January 2014

Year in Review: Ill feelings and Worn-down Workers

How are you feeling? Workplace research is paying more and more attention to this question.

Last year we covered a number of papers on surface acting – effortfully managing your emotions and manufacturing the expression deemed ‘correct’ for the situation. This is common in interactions with customers, but recent research identifies this behaviour as a factor in internal meetings and shows long-term ill effects from continual cover-ups.

We discovered individual differences in how much we can weather surface acting: individuals with high levels of 'affect spin' - meaning higher peaks and lower troughs of their emotional world - find it more fatiguing. But day-to-day, we can employ techniques that defuse the emotions that we otherwise struggle to tame. One of these is mindfulness, which helps us by depersonalising the experience and interrupting thought processes that lead us into frustration.

Surface acting is best used rarely, but what other patterns habits? should we be shedding? Research uncovered a range of factors that transform work problems into vicious circles.

How are you avoiding your problems? If you’re engaging in escapist thoughts about how outside forces will fix everything, you may be letting things pile up. But if you are mentally detaching yourself from them during downtime, the psychological distance this creates is going to help you cope and solve those problems. When we don’t detach, we ruminate - and we know that keeping problems ever-present wears us down.

A recent study suggests that it’s easier to escape rumination over a conflict with a colleague if we’re able to identify a clear source of the disagreement. When we can’t, we end up worrying about whether the spat was motivated by personal dislike, and the consequences this has for the working environment. This is a perfect example of the new concept of Toxic Emotional Experiences, which argues that most negative encounters aren’t damaging to our psychological health unless they are identified as part of a pattern of toxic experience that won't go away - the persistently sarcastic boss or perennially failing database.

A further vicious cycle, and a profound one for society: a personal tendency to be hostile makes you more likely to be unemployed. And being unemployed increases your tendency to act in hostile ways.

In all this evaluation of negative feeling it’s important to remember that it can serve important functions – here are two that were identified this year.

Negative emotional displays may help you do better in negotiations. In a recent study, disappointment could signal to a counterpart that an offer is woefully insufficient and lead them to greater generosity. (But avoid insincere displays - remember the perils of surface acting!)

Contrary to general understanding, unending positivity may not be a panacea for creative tasks. Research suggests that starting negative may be beneficial, for two reasons: negativity may help you detect things that need to change, and give you an impetus to do it. In addition, the evidence suggests that the process of switching from a negative to a positive mood widens the associations available in your memory network, providing more of the connections that feed creativity.

The message from all these findings? Look after yourself! Don't rely on surface acting to get you through - use mindfulness techniques to process emotions in a more healthy way, or better yet, address the reasons why the workplace is putting you at odds with yourself. Avoid rumination, and look for the benign explanation for a spat - maybe Ted really does need the photocopier in the North-East corner. If you identify that your life has one or more toxic emotional experiences that keep rearing up, tackle them directly. But don't see negative emotions as an enemy: in context, they can even be useful. We want to be accessible to our range of feelings, but not let them, or worrying thoughts, become our masters.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Want a spate of good deeds? Confront the ne'er do wells...

Discovering you are racking up more work misdemeanours than the organisation considers acceptable can lead people to perform reparation behaviours to compensate for their misdeeds. The study that reports this new finding did not rely on public or interpersonal shaming for its effect; anonymous feedback that the individual had committed an above-average amount of counterproductive work actions was enough to provoke guilt, and through that, altruism.

On day one of Remus Ilies's survey-based study, 146 university employees recorded the counter-productive work behaviours (CWBs) they got up to, such as playing pranks on others or taking extra-long breaks. The next day, half of them received feedback on their CWB levels compared to the average. The feedback noted that above-average CWBs were harmful to the wellbeing of the organisation. Participants were then asked how much they intended to engage in another kind of extra-role behaviour, positive organisational citizenship behaviours such as assisting others or offering ideas. Three days later, they were surveyed again about how much citizenship behaviour they had actually engaged in.

Above average offenders who received no feedback were least likely to plan or carry out citizenship acts for others. Typical of those lot, eh? But when feedback was provided, the intentions of high offenders, and their actual efforts to do good, shot up to levels similar to those of the well-behaved, low CWB participants. The Day two survey also recorded ratings of emotional guilt, and this was what mediated the relationship between feedback on high CWBs and more citizenship behaviours: the more guilt, the more they tried to make up with good deeds.

Previous work has suggested going the extra mile at work is related to positive emotions, but here we see a benefit from a negative emotion, and one that produces a crossover from harmful work behaviours to constructive behaviours. The authors characterise it as 'a dynamic phenomenon in which negative and positive voluntary behaviours influence each other' until employees find their own balance according to 'their personal level of comfort.' They call for future work to see whether the compensatory behaviours occur in the same domain - teasing a co-worker leading to helping that person out - or whether guilt leads to indirect compensation such as more active work participation, rather than looking the bad deed in the face.

ResearchBlogging.orgRemus Ilies, Ann Chunyan Peng, Krishna Savani, & Nikos Dimotakis (2013). Guilty and Helpful: An Emotion-Based Reparatory Model of Voluntary Work Behavior Journal of Applied Psychology DOI: 10.1037/a0034162

Thursday, 31 October 2013

What makes ill feeling between work colleagues shift faster?

An instance of personal friction with a colleague can create angry feelings that are slow to abate. Paradoxically, when the prickly day also involves a specific work-related dispute, bad moods don’t linger so long. This counter-intuitive finding may reflect our willingness to seek a benign explanation for unpleasant situations, blaming the context rather than the person.

The research, from a team led by Laurenz Meier, looked at day-to-day swings in ratings of anger. This longitudinal study asked the 131 participants to diarise their mood before work, after work, and before bed, over a period of two weeks. The participants also recorded daily incidents of task conflict - disagreements about how to solve problems – and incidents of personal frictions, or relationship conflict. Meier's team looked at how mood was altered following such conflicts, after controlling for start-of-day mood. Did conflicts lead to impaired well-being, in terms of a fouler mood, and if so, how much and for how long?

Study participants tended to feel angrier at the end of a day that involved interpersonal relationship conflict with colleagues, feelings that continued in a weaker form to bed-time and could even linger to the following morning. However, when the rough day also involved a task conflict as well as a relationship one, well-being was only worse at the end of the day, and tended to recover by bed-time.

Consistent with previous research, the unpleasant nature of interpersonal tensions awaken negative feelings that colour the working day. Meier's team believe that their paradoxical finding for work-related conflict reflects a preference to attribute such instances to a situation: 'tempers ran high because we all want the project to succeed', rather than to a person: 'she just doesn't like me'. Taking the more benign interpretation allows us to go to bed feeling less chewed up. The researchers also looked at somatic complaints such as headaches and back pain, and again found that these symptoms were highest with relationship conflict and no task conflict, but this mirroring of the angry-mood pattern did not reach overall significance.

According to this research, the more personal 'storm in a teacup' may actually be the most insidious type. With nothing wrong to fix, it's easier to paint the other person as difficult or even malevolent, and that may be a hard place to recover from. If you want to smooth ruffled feathers it may be useful to focus attention on the task components of disagreements, encouraging reappraisal of the situation, and leading people away from a less defensive mindset.

ResearchBlogging.orgMeier LL, Gross S, Spector PE, & Semmer NK (2013). Relationship and task conflict at work: interactive short-term effects on angry mood and somatic complaints. Journal of occupational health psychology, 18 (2), 144-56 PMID: 23506551

Further Reading:
Spector, P. E., & Bruk-Lee, V. (2008). Conflict, health, and well-being. In
C. K. W. De Dreu & M. J. Gelfand (Eds.), The psychology of conflict
and conflict management in organizations (pp. 267–288). San Francisco,
CA: Jossey-Bass.

Monday, 7 October 2013

When do negative emotions give you an edge in negotiations?

I’m sat in negotiations for a coveted deal. As time goes on, the person across the table looks pained, shifts in their seat, and tells me how disappointed they feel about my approach to the negotiation. How am I likely to adjust my style - would I go easy on them, or go in for the kill? New research by Gert-Jan Lelieveld and colleagues suggests it depends on whether I feel guilty about it - and that’s a question of social context.

In a first experiment, students were requested to engage in a computer-based ultimatum negotiation, where they get to slice up a resource between themselves and a counterpart, who then gets to decide whether the deal is on; if not, both sides receive nothing. Before negotiations, participants completed a survey on their general attitude to negotiation, rating items such as ‘During negotiations, my own outcomes are important’. In a series of deceptive turns, participants were told that their survey responses were shared with the counterpart who had found them upsetting; participants were then given access to a (private) typed reaction from the counterpart that contained either anger words or disappointment words. In truth, there was no counterpart, with the ‘reactions’ just part of the experimental set-up. What effect would they have?

Anger and disappointment led to similar offers, except in one case: when the counterpart was presented as being from a rival university, rather than a fellow student. Here, participants in the disappointment condition were prepared to make a more aggressive bid that took more of the pie for themselves. A follow-up experiment found similar aggressive bids following disappointment when the participants were negotiating on behalf of a group, rather than for themselves.

The exceptional results were both found in conditions designed to minimise guilt. Disappointment is a ‘supplication’ emotion that indicates that something is wrong, and others need to do something about it. As an example of an other-directed emotion, its function is to elicit helping behaviour from others by triggering the negative state of guilt. But supplication also signals passivity and even helplessness, so when guilt isn’t appropriate, observers may prefer to exploit the disappointed.

This is what we see in this pattern of results. Guilt is less appropriate towards out-group members, like a member of a rival university, and is also dissipated when negotiating on behalf of an absent social group towards whom you have more explicit obligations. In both experiments participants reported the levels of guilt they felt, and these scores tracked generosity of offers in the disappointment conditions, but not in the anger ones.

In these experiments anger reactions more consistently elicited generous offers from a participant, but Lelieveld’s team have also published work showing that the effects of anger also fluctuate, dependent on how powerful the counterpart is perceived to be. The takeaway is that emotions don’t have a deterministic effect on negotiation behaviour, but generate different influences depending on the framing of a situation.

ResearchBlogging.orgGert-Jan Lelieveld, Eric Van Dijk, Ilja Van Beest, & Gerben A. Van Kleef (2013). Does Communicating Disappointment in Negotiations Help or Hurt? Solving an Apparent Inconsistency in the Social-Functional Approach to Emotions Journal of Personality and Social Psychology DOI: 10.1037/a0033345

Further reading:
Morris, M. W., & Keltner, D. (2000). How emotions work: An analysis of
the social functions of emotional expression in negotiations. Research in
Organizational Behavior, 22, 1–50. doi:10.1016/S0191-3085(00)22002-9

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Advice taking is influenced by how you feel, and who you're feeling it toward

Work presents us with many sources of advice, from managers, coaches and consultants, to our colleagues and friends. Advice often leads to better decisions, but we're not always prepared to take it. Recent research has suggested a role for emotion: for instance, feeling angry makes us less likely to follow advice.
Now a new study by Ilona de Hooge, Peeter Verlegh and Stefanie Tzioti suggests that this comes down to two emotional properties: yes, positive or negative valence is crucial, but its influence depends on whether the emotion is directed inwards or towards another person.

The researchers ran five experiments, each with 50-120 undergraduates individually engaging with tasks through a computer screen. In both experiments one and two, either a positive or negative emotion was induced in each participant, who then had to select one of two activities to perform, one of which had been recommended by a 'co-participant' (actually a scripted part of the experiment).

In experiment one, the participants were induced to experience emotion directed at their advice-giving co-participant: in the gratitude condition, the co-participant had just solved a tough problem to earn both players a prize; in the anger condition they missed the prize by fluffing an easy problem, even though the real participant had urged them to adjust their answer.

In experiment two, the emotions induced in participants were directed inward, by the announcement - again to a fictional, computer generated group of co-participants - of contrived intelligence test results that either induced shame or pride in the participant.

When directed outward, positive emotion (i.e. gratitude), as compared with negative, encouraged advice-taking . What you feel about another person provides quick and dirty information about whether you find them capable or believe they have your best interests at heart. If you don't, best not to rely on them. But induced emotion was directed inward, the reverse effect was found, with negative emotion being associated with greater advice taking – just as de Hooge and her colleagues predicted. Self-directed emotion gives a shorthand for judging your own current capability and readiness to take action. If you feel bad about yourself, perhaps it's better to listen to others.

Maybe the effect was driven by tactics, not emotion -  if you think another is particularly smart, you're more willing to follow their lead. Subsequent experiments decoupled the emotion from the true capability of the co-participant, and expanded the decision task from a binary A-or-B to an estimate task (how much will this product sell?). Participants now recalled an autobiographical experience that involved one of the four emotions (such as pride), and were asked to associate this feeling with the co-participant before hearing their estimate and making a final decision. The data showed the same pattern as with the four previous emotions – advice taking increased for shame compared to pride, and gratitude compared to anger.

The experiments also showed that recalling a case of anger directed inward increased advice taking, whereas anger outward decreased it, and found weaker but marginally significant effects when emotion labels such as shame were done away with altogether, allowing participants to remember a generalised negative self-focused emotion in its place. This suggests that it is the valence-directionality combination that is critical, rather than idiosyncratic qualities of the specific emotions used.

A better understanding of how we become receptive to advice is going to lead to better decisions. We may need to think harder about how to reach people in different states; as the authors conclude, 'people experiencing negative, self-focused emotions such as shame or sadness might be the most likely to follow advice but may also be the least likely to seek advice in the first place.'

ResearchBlogging.orgIlona E. de Hooge, Peeter W. J. Verlegh, and Stephanie C. Tzioti (2013). Emotions in Advice Taking: The Roles of Agency and Valence Journal of Behavioral Decision Making DOI: 10.1002/bdm.1801

Further reading:
Bonaccio, S., & Dalal, R. S. (2006). Advice taking and decision making: An integrative literature review, and implications for the organizational sciences. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 101, 127–151.

Friday, 13 September 2013

A positive mindset on joining a group boosts your longer-term status

Status: a formal feature of many workplaces, an informal part of every workplace. We form pecking orders that influence who calls the shots, who gets heard, and who gets applauded or rewarded. Essentially a matter of perception, status can be influenced by rank, demographic, background, as well as race, gender, and age. A new article suggests that status is also influenced by style of behaviour when we join a group, and that these behaviours can be activated by a simple change in mindset.

Researchers Gavid Kilduff and Adam Galinsky were interested in priming, how exposure to something can change how we respond to events that follow, like seeing people as 'warm' after holding a warm drink, or  physically slowing after reading about elderly people (an effect now under some scrutiny).  As priming operates via mental states, which fluctuate day-to-day, if not minute-to-minute, we normally expect their effects to be similarly short-term. However, Kilduff and Galinsky proposed that effects that boost status during a group's formation could get locked-in for the lifetime of the group. If I'm struck by Sheila as having top-dog potential, I'll ask her perspective more often and put more faith in her opinions, and these prophecies become self-fulfilling.

The research focused on mental states that involve an 'approach orientation', where the individual is drawn to exploring and meeting people, problems, or environments, as opposed to a conservative 'avoidance orientation'. Approach orientation is associated with confidence, activity, and goal-oriented behaviour, the sorts of things that are habitual to extraverts and trait-dominant people, people who tend to take higher status roles. In some senses it is a 'state' version of the extraversion trait. Could it give the same status benefits?

The first study established this was possible - at least in the short-term - by priming their 57 student participants by asking them to write a few paragraphs on either their commute to work (No priming), their current duties and obligations (Avoidance), or their ambitions and aspirations (Approach). Then one student from each condition met as a trio for a twenty minute session in which they tackled an open-ended task (ranking the importance of items to a new business). The participants gave higher anonymous status ratings to team members who had been primed with the approach orientation task. The group also agreed (through ratings) that these Approach individuals showed more proactive behaviour during the meeting, which appeared to mediate and explain the status bonus.

The second study replicated and extended the first using a different element of approach orientation: where the previous study had focused on 'promotion focus', this one primed the state of feeling powerful, by asking this group to write on a situation where they had power over others, versus being disempowered or the same neutral condition as before.  Again, ratings following the group decision task showed that individuals in the power condition were awarded higher status and engaged in more proactive behaviours, behaviours now measured by blind coders observing video of the interaction. Two days later, the group was reassembled for another decision task with no further mindset manipulations. Those who had initially been in the Power condition continued to get a status advantage. These participants had provided personality data, and analysis suggested this Time 2 benefit to status was greatest for those lower in extraversion.

The final study replicated this two-stage approach by priming happiness, unhappiness or neutral thoughts in the writing exercise. As well as rating status, participants at the second meeting were asked to secretly apportion points between themselves and their two team members, points that contributed to chances of winning a financial prize. Participants originally assigned to the Happiness condition received more points at this second stage, in addition to higher status ratings. This use of an additional, novel metric goes some way to heading off a potential criticism of the research design, which is that Time 2 status ratings may be anchored by the Time 1 ratings. All these effects were  stable even when controlling for Extraversion, Trait Dominance and Trait Positive Affect, more durable individual features that affect status.

This research suggests a kind of butterfly effect, where small differences in initial mindset can echo through a group's interactions and shape their status relationships in a way that remains, even days later. A short-term change of mindset is relatively easy - the manipulation in this experiment is trivially easy to do yourself - especially compared to trying to alter personality states, never mind demographics. The suggestive finding that mindset could matter more for those less extraverted, who take status less naturally, makes this finding empowering.
ResearchBlogging.orgKilduff GJ, & Galinsky AD (2013). From the Ephemeral to the Enduring: How Approach-Oriented Mindsets Lead to Greater Status. Journal of personality and social psychology PMID: 23895266
Further reading: 
Driskell, J. E., & Mullen, B. (1990). Status, expectations, and behavior: A meta-analytic review and test of the theory. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 16, 541–553.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Employees don't feel obliged to pay back managers who support them emotionally

The offering of emotional support from a manager at times of need is perceived very differently by managers and the recipients of that support. According to a new paper, while managers see such efforts as over-and-above their expected responsibilities, employees see it as just part of the manager's job. This clash of expectations can lead to problems.

Researchers Ginka Toegel, Martin Kilduff and N Anand drew their data through interviews and network analysis of staff at a recruitment agency. The network analysis asked the 67 employees to detail who they relied on when experiencing negative emotions. Those lower in the company hierarchy tended to turn to more senior colleagues for emotional support when stressed, angry or fatigued. There was little traffic in the other direction, as senior staff typically sought support from peers rather than subordinates. (We've covered leadership responses to challenges here.)

Interview data suggested that as well as responding to direct requests for support, managers often actively scanned their environment for brewing issues, and engaged with subordinates to offer venues to discuss emotional issues. And the ways in which managers helped ranged from simple listen-and-advice to more involved interventions, such as reframing and transforming the employees perspective.

What are the managerial motivations that lie behind such patterns of helping behaviour? Some managers expressed a fairly-hard nosed attitude: 'I don’t want that people leave, or I don’t want them to be really low or down at work, because this will have negative impact on me.' These individuals expected their efforts to pay back in terms of renewed commitment to the team. Other managers were more pro-social, acting because they are interested in people and concerned for their feelings. Still, they also expected reciprocity in terms of warmth and appreciation for their efforts. As one manager expressed, 'what I am doing [by way of emotion help] is over and above my responsibilities as a manager', and this view emerged as a consistent theme across the 14 managers interviewed: emotional support is an extra-role activity.

But employees saw things differently. 'If it is a work-related emotional problem, then it is my manager’s job to support me.' From their perspective, emotional support is simply a feature of the managers job, and saw little or no obligation to reciprocate. Employees did sometimes perceive that a manager was doing an excellent job in emotional support and consequently saw them as exceptional leaders, attributing them experience, wisdom and even referring to them as father- and mother-figures. The authors speculate whether putting the manager into such roles is a way to remove the need to actively reciprocate, just as children are rarely expected to match the efforts of their parents. While this can be flattering to a manager, the lack of a quid pro quo led to some managers feeling 'let down and disappointed', such as when an employee supported through a difficult episode went on to abruptly quit the company for a better position.

Neither the employee nor manager is wrong, but this study suggests that they can commonly be on different pages with regard to the role of emotional support. Being a 'toxin handler' of other people's negative emotions can be challenging and have knock-on effects for those who intervene. The authors conclude that 'our model suggests the paradox that helping behavior designed to ameliorate negative emotions may itself generate negative emotions on the part of managers waiting in vain for employees to repay their kindness with personal loyalty.'

ResearchBlogging.orgToegel, G., Kilduff, M., & Anand, N. (2012). Emotion Helping by Managers: An Emergent Understanding of Discrepant Role Expectations and Outcomes Academy of Management Journal, 56 (2), 334-357 DOI: 10.5465/amj.2010.0512

Further reading:
Elfenbein, H. A. 2007. Emotion in organizations. In J. P. Walsh & A. P. Brief (Eds.), Academy of Management annals, vol. 1: 315–386. New York: Erlbaum.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Starting negative may help you be creative

Positive emotion has long been recognised as facilitating creativity, through broadening thinking and allowing exploratory mental wandering. Conversely, high negative emotion tends to lead to narrow focus on salient, possibly threatening environmental features (such as an impending deadline or difficult conversation), which has lead many to discount it as an impediment to creativity. But recent research suggests that prior states of negative emotion can improve subsequent creative activity.

The paper, by Ronald Bledow, Kathrin Rosing and Michael Frese, does not contest the idea that positive emotions crucially support creativity: what they propose is that positivity rising over time while negativity descends over time may offer better conditions than high positivity coupled with an absence of negative affect. They provide two reasons for this.

Firstly, the narrow, alert focus on issues can be useful by focusing on things that are in need of a solution and spurring motivation to act on these; previous research does suggest that negative emotion can lead to more persistence in problem solving. Once this focus has been set, allowing the negative emotions to slide away and positive emotions to explore the possibility space is a good recipe for getting to innovative solutions. The first study investigated this by asking 102 participants in creative roles to document their affect at the start and end of each day for a week, independently rating positive (excited, alert, inspired) and negative (distressed, hostile, guilty) emotional terms. Positive affect at the end of the day predicted how much creativity the participant reported in that day, but that relationship was significantly stronger when start-of-day negative affect was higher.

In a second, experimental study, Bledow's team focused solely on another advantage of starting in a negative mood, that it is specifically a decrease in negative mood that opens up associative networks of memory, allowing wider associations. The 80 participants in this study completed a brainstorming task after writing an autobiographical essay about a positive event. Before either, all participants wrote an initial autobiographical essay, and those who were tasked with articulating an unpleasant instead of a neutral experience ultimately performed better the brainstorming task, producing more varied and unique ideas. This happened even though the negative state had no function in focusing their attention on anything related to the creative task, which suggests the better performance was due to entering a more suitable cognitive mode.

Further research is needed on these dynamic relationships between different types of affect, in particular to examine more closely how fluctuations on a shorter timescale may impact work goals. But this paper suggests that treating positive affect as the wellspring of creativity may perversely be itself an example of overly narrow focus. Individuals who routinely dismiss negative thoughts to stay in their happy place may wish to dwell a little longer, as a station on the way to their creative destinations.

ResearchBlogging.orgBledow, R., Rosing, K., & Frese, M. (2012). A Dynamic Perspective on Affect and Creativity Academy of Management Journal, 56 (2), 432-450 DOI: 10.5465/amj.2010.0894

Further reading:
Baas, M., De Dreu, C. K. W., & Nijstad, B. A. 2008. A meta-analysis of 25 years of mood-creativity research: Hedonic tone, activation, or regulatory focus? Psychological Bulletin, 134: 779 – 806.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Who pays the biggest price for managing emotional displays in the workplace?

Understanding workplace demands on our emotions is one of our popular topics. Recent research combines two issues we've reported on previously: surface acting, the form of emotional labour that involves expressing emotions you don't genuinely feel, and affect spin, a measure of the variability of a person's emotional experiences. The paper suggests that overall, surface acting places greater demands on people high in affect spin.

Daniel Beal and colleagues ran their study with 64 restaurant servers from seven US restaurants. At regular stages in a shift, participants used PDA devices to record states and behaviours they had experienced since the last collection stage. This included how much surface acting they had performed, stress and fatigue measures, and ratings of various emotional states (eg happiness, guilt). The latter was used to compute affect spin by determining each individual's 'emotional centre' and then establishing how much they varied from this centre across the study. Participation was for an average of 10 shifts, with four collections per shift (shift start, pre-rush, post rush, shift end).

The ultimate study outcome measure was fatigue, and the data confirmed the researchers' prediction that surface acting would affect this in two ways. Directly - effortful strategies use up psychological resources - and indirectly through heightened stress, as a consequence of body physiology being forced away from natural expressions. The researchers suspected that affect spin would further influence this story and put this to the test using a multi-level model of how acting, stress and fatigue interact, both for individuals with low-affect spin - meaning their emotions are relatively consistent and non-dynamic - and for those with high-spin.

High spin participants saw surface acting increase their fatigue to a greater extent than their low spin co-workers. We know that high emotional variability makes it difficult to anticipate what emotions will emerge; this may make it harder to wrangle these sudden states into shape - especially if the emotion to be masked is extreme.

Similarly, whereas low spin individuals find surface acting slightly stressful, those with high spin seem to be more affected. Beale's team predicted this, as high spin individuals are generally more reactive to emotionally resonant situations, exactly the situations where surface acting tends to be needed.

But there is a silver lining for high spin: although they feel more stress, they can shrug it off more easily. It's plausible that their nature leads them to experience more daily drama, and they have learned to cope with it as a part of life. weakening somewhat the path from stress to fatigue. Still, overall the high spin individuals ended up more fatigued from surface acting than their counterparts.

As emotional labour is part of so many jobs nowadays, in the burgeoning service industry and beyond, it's important to understand what the consequences are for employee wellbeing. Stress and fatigue are predictors of burnout and job turnover, so understanding risk factors for different kinds of people gets us a step closer to supporting them and helping the workplace to contain natural smiles, as well as forced ones.
ResearchBlogging.orgBeal, D., Trougakos, J., Weiss, H., & Dalal, R. (2013). Affect Spin and the Emotion Regulation Process at Work. Journal of Applied Psychology DOI: 10.1037/a0032559

Friday, 15 February 2013

Toxic Emotional Experiences: What they are, How they affect us, How to avoid them

When does experiencing negative emotions lead to longer-lasting consequences, for our mental health, our attitude toward work, or our performance? Negative emotions themselves tend to be short-lived, such as the flash of hot anger during a fruitless phone call with your would-be internet provider. These moments in themselves needn't necessarily wear us down; in fact, they can be galvanising, such as anger generated from a sense of injustice. Researchers Tina Kiefer and Laurie Barclay propose that for lasting harm to occur, discrete negative events need to happen against a wider backdrop, to which every event contributes and by which every event is given weight. These backdrops they describe as 'toxic emotional experiences' (TEEs).

Kiefer and Barclay explored this concept within a pool of 876 participants recruited online, asking them to anonymously rate their own performance, attitude toward the organisation (in terms of trust, perceived organisational support, and affective commitment, the feeling of belonging), and psychological health. These outcome measures were predicted using negative emotions such as angry or anxious, and as a second component of their model, features that are seen as defining of a TEE. This was based on items describing three features: whether emotional experiences were recurring, draining, and encouraged disconnection from others.

Structural Equational Modelling was used to ask whether and how the TEEs mediated the impact of negative emotions on the outcome measures. Within the data, various effects were found: performance was influenced by levels of disconnection and recurrence, psychological health by recurrence and draining, and attitude to organisation by recurrence. Total TEE also influenced each outcome.

In a second study, Kiefer and Barclay looked at helping behaviours, such as contributing ideas or sharing workload, within 136 individuals from within a single organisation. Contrary to predictions, higher incidence of negative emotions produced more helping behaviours, rather than less. It's possible this is an artefact of certain teams in high pressure, crisis situations, experiencing more negative emotions during a time when they were required to work more closely together. However, TEEs, particularly the recurring component, moderated the effect by making helping behaviours less likely. This study shows that not only are TEEs distinct from raw negative emotional events, the two can pull apart in different directions.

Recurring appeared to be a particularly important component of TEEs. You can see it as the chip, chipping away of resolve due to the sense that problems are continuing without a clear end. This study reinforces the importance of addressing persistent low-level negative issues, as their effects seem to be insidious - a kind of No Broken Windows effect for the emotional workplace, perhaps?

ResearchBlogging.orgKiefer, T., & Barclay, L. (2012). Understanding the mediating role of toxic emotional experiences in the relationship between negative emotions and adverse outcomes Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 85 (4), 600-625 DOI: 10.1111/j.2044-8325.2012.02055.x

Further reading:

Lee, K., & Allen, N. J. (2002). Organizational citizenship behavior and workplace deviance: The role of affect and cognitions. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87, 131–142. DOI:10.1037/0021-9010.87.1.131

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Are organisations led by the limbic system?

(We're reporting from this month's Division of Occupational Psychology conference at the Digest. This post is by Dr Jon Sutton, Managing Editor of The Psychologist, and will also feature in that magazine's March issue. @jonmsutton / @psychmag)

According to keynote speaker Gerard Hodgkinson (Professor of Strategic Management and Behavioural Science at Warwick Business School), ‘Descartes’s error is alive and well in the workplace’. In a bold and wide-ranging address, Hodgkinson made the case for why and how occupational psychology needs to connect with the social neurosciences.

Hodgkinson is bringing psychology into the field of strategic management, trying to help decision makers become more rational. Take how organisations tend to respond to a major threat or opportunity (HMV and Blockbuster come to mind as I write this). Usually there are small, incremental changes, and when it becomes apparent this isn’t sufficient, what does the organisation do? Nothing. There is a period of ‘strategic drift’. Then there is a period of ‘flux’, which on Hodgkinson’s graphic representation looks rather like a tailspin. This is followed by ‘phase 4’, ‘transformational change’ or ‘complete demise’.

But to what extent can psychology shed light on this process? Hodgkinson’s 2002 book ‘The Competent Organization’ argued the case for the centrality of the psychological contribution to organisational learning and strategic adaptation, yet 11 years on, he said, there was still only a passing consideration of affective and non-conscious cognitive processes. Why do we continue to sidestep it?

Using examples from his practice, Hodgkinson demonstrated how strategising is both an inherently cognitive and affective process. Eliciting a cognitive taxonomy from senior figures in a UK grocery firm, he found that although the market conditions had changed dramatically, mental models – individually and collectively – had not. Decision makers were slaves to their basic psychological processes, for example still focusing on the ‘magic number’ of ‘7 plus or minus 2’ competitors.

Hodgkinson showed how he confronts strategic inertia in top management teams, stimulating individual cognitive processes by scenario analysis. Some organisations excel at this: Hodgkinson claims that Shell closed all their facilities within 45 minutes of 9/11. While others were still struggling to comprehend what was happening, their scenario planning had allowed them to take quick and decisive action.

Hodgkinson’s latest research draws on social cognitive neuroscience and neuroeconomics to develop a series of counterintuitive insights. His hope is that these can teach people to be more skilled in their control of their emotional, limbic system. True rationality, he concluded, is the product of the analytical and experiential mind.

Further reading:

ResearchBlogging.orgHodgkinson, G., & Healey, M. (2008). Cognition in Organizations Annual Review of Psychology, 59 (1), 387-417 DOI: 10.1146/annurev.psych.59.103006.093612 Pdf freely available here.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Adjustment to a new role is influenced by how your supervisor makes you feel

Before every great employee, there was a new employee. Getting newcomers up to speed is crucial for organisations, so it's useful to know how this is supported or disrupted. Competing models suggest the supervisor as the decisive factor in onboarding, or that newcomers themselves are the crucial agent. A new article focuses on the interplay between the two: how a supervisor makes you feel shapes your behaviours that can make or break those early days.

Suhsil Nifadkar, Anne Tsui and Blake Ashforth conducted their survey-based research within the IT sector in India, where growth at around 30% and high turnover means a lot of newcomers and high stakes for their rapid adjustment. Being 'new' can mean different things in different jobs, so the team consulted with HR representatives in the industry to agree on a boundary of the first three months of employment. New starters across a range of companies were contacted and those enlisted sent a survey at the end of their first month, asking about how their supervisor treated them, in terms of levels of support and amount of verbal aggression. Two weeks later respondents were asked to complete a second survey asking how they currently felt about the supervisor, both in terms of positive affect, with items like 'I feel glad to interact with my supervisor', and negative affect, such as 'I feel very tense around my supervisor'. Nifadkar and colleagues constructed their inventories based on Russell's influential circumplex model of emotion, which defines it in terms of valence (pleasant to unpleasant) and high to low arousal, and the team opted to measure positive and negative affect separately as people can experience ambivalence with 'mixed emotions' in response to experiences and individuals. They predicted that feelings towards a supervisor would be driven by how they have been treated in the past, and this was born out, with more support leading to more positive affect and more aggression to more negative affect.

But what consequences do these feelings have? The research team were driven by the approach-avoidance model of emotion, in which emotions direct us towards one of two fundamentals of behaviour: moving towards or away from a target activity or individual. In a workplace environment, they hypothesised this could take two forms: the extent to which they proactively seek supervisor feedback to better understand the workplace, and the extent to which they avoid the supervisor when possible. These were measured in a survey two weeks further into the respondents' employment, analysis of which found positive affect led to more feedback behaviours and identified a particularly strong effect of negative affect upon avoidance behaviours. The consequences of these behaviours were measured in a final survey two weeks on, looking at in-role performance, amount of helping behaviours towards colleagues, and newcomer adjustment outcomes - a combination of social adjustment, understanding of tasks and clarity on their own role. Requesting more feedback was positively associated with performance and newcomer adjustment, and actively avoiding the supervisor was associated with worse performance and fewer helping behaviours.

Organisations can invest substantially in onboarding schemes for new staff, recognising how much a bad start can cost them. As important as these are, this research suggests that the disposition of one individual - the supervisor - can be highly influential on outcomes. Supervisor behaviour triggers emotional responses, which are intended to be protective and adaptive but can lead to counterproductive behaviour, such as refraining from seeking help on a task beyond you because you were rebuked on an earlier occasion. Nifadkar and colleagues suggest that organisations could give more attention to the formative emotional experiences that their supervisors are bestowing on new staff, and even consider that the 'probation period' is really evaluating two people: the new hire and the person responsible for their early days.

ResearchBlogging.orgNifadkar, S., Tsui, A., & Ashforth, B. (2012). The way you make me feel and behave: Supervisor-triggered newcomer affect and approach-avoidance behavior. Academy of Management Journal, 55 (5), 1146-1168 DOI: 10.5465/amj.2010.0133

Monday, 29 October 2012

Ruminative thoughts deepen the long-term impact of workplace violence

Experiencing workplace violence can have negative impacts far beyond the event itself. How do our own thoughts and cognitions influence this? And is there anything we can do about it?  Karen Niven and colleagues from the universities of Manchester and Sheffield suspected that ruminative thoughts may be a problem. Rumination involves returning to a difficult memory or thought over and over without a clear goal-directed purpose. Its generalised nature means it obstructs solutions while maintaining the negative qualities of the thought in time, extending its impact.

 After an initial experimental study, demonstrating that rumination on simulated violence prevents our emotional state from returning to normal levels in the short term, the team took the effect out into the field. This study investigated whether trait rumination - our individual tendency to fall into ruminative thinking, would predict longer-term outcomes following actual workplace violence. The sample of 78 social workers were surveyed on their experiences of violence over the last six months on the job (only 23% had experienced no violence), as well as completing measures of current psychological wellbeing, health complaints, and trait rumination.

Using regression analysis, the team found that individually both violence and rumination led to worsened physical and psychological health, but that violence didn't have an impact on wellbeing for those who tended not people to ruminate. In other words, rumination appeared to be a necessary condition for violence to cast a wider pall upon psychological health.

Existing research warns of the hazards of suppressing our thoughts, which is psychologically involving and can lead to negative outcomes. However, once thinking starts to become ruminative, going over old ground again and again, then finding a means of distraction may be effective in reducing impact both immediately, and in the longer term. Regardless, we shouldn't forget that the onus is on the perpetrators of workplace violence to change their behaviours. Niven, K., Sprigg, C., Armitage, C., & Satchwell, A. (2012). Ruminative thinking exacerbates the negative effects of workplace violence Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology DOI: 10.1111/j.2044-8325.2012.02066.x

Friday, 28 September 2012

How they keep on smiling at Disney

I recently came across a piece on the 'happiest place on earth', Florida's Walt Disney World. Several nuggets were noteworthy: Disney World and its related local industries make Disney the largest single-site employer in the US. The site is substantial enough to warrant its own Disney police force. And the operation practices what they call the 'science' of guestology (google it). Of most interest is how Disney trains its employees to deliver that happy feeling to its paying customers.

Anne Reyers' and Jonathan Matusitz's paper focuses on emotional labour: the effort we put in to regulate our emotions to deliver the outcomes the organisation expects. In Disney's case, this is happiness and delight for every guest, all the time, enshrining the notion that even a single unsatisfied guest cancels out 70 happy ones. Walt himself, having observed frowns and negativity on tours of the grounds, insisted on Disney University, a mandatory training process for every employee, that more than anything else is an extended emotion regulation regime. From the off, the training frames the job in terms of play rather than work, and trainees are taken through methods of managing facial and voice cues to maintain a happy, relaxed, and accessible approach. This is effectively a masterclass in surface acting.

However, research suggests that Disney employees actively involved in surface acting are more likely to experience emotional exhaustion. This accords with broader evidence that surface acting is hard work. Genuinely feeling the emotions you wish to exhibit - deep acting - is aspired for at the Disney University but there are no guarantees when a pushy brat keeps calling you names. Indeed, other research indicates that buttoning back anger is the hardest thing to do for Disney employees, and having to keep doing so is a major driver of emotional exhaustion.  Studies on Disney employees suggests two ways to stave this off are by understanding the importance of  emotional regulation and a fit to role requirements, and by believing that their manager values their emotional contributions, perhaps by offering rewards (in keeping with the ERI stress model mentioned recently). Reyers and Matusitz believe that the training at Disney does in fact attend to these two coping mechanisms, which may partly explain the low attrition rate of 12-15%, compared to the 60% standard in hospitality roles. It's also worth noting recent research that if the positive emotion is reciprocated, staff may end up feeling genuinely happier too.

These things are far from Disney-specific. These principles 'have come to govern the rest of the customer service world' to push 'the frontier of Disney-like happiness across the world'...which may delight or horrify you.

ResearchBlogging.orgAnne Reyers, & Jonathan Matusitz (2012). Emotional Regulation at Walt Disney World: An Impression Management View Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health, 27 (3), 139-159 DOI: 10.1080/15555240.2012.701167

Friday, 21 September 2012

Laugh and the workplace laughs with you

How far can a laugh carry? According to Christopher Robert and James Wilbanks, it can reverberate through time, with far-reaching consequences. Their theoretical paper, synthesising research from neuroscience, behavioural psychology and the workplace, suggests that funny incidents can have a cumulative positive effect through a 'Humour Wheel'.

Humour can be understood as a positive emotional state arising from incongruity: a joke puts two elements together in an unexpected way, and sarcasm belies what is said with what is intended  (and appears to facilitate creativity for this reason). It's one of the most intense positive emotions, putting aside triumph, which tends to accompany rare events, and sensual pleasure, typically inappropriate for a workplace. Humour is instead quintessentially social, and can occur frequently; for Robert and Wilbanks this is crucial, as established theories of workplace affective events (situations that change our mood or emotions) suggest that quantity matters more than significance of such events for shaping workplace outcomes.

Moreover, the contagious nature of laughter - we laugh at a laugh even shorn of context, and our brains respond to laughter sounds in a similar way as they do to something funny - means that a single moment of humour can evoke and encourage others - both directly through emotional contagion and also by acting as a trigger to permit employees to breach straight-faced operations with crinkled smiles. As a consequence, an instance of humour can lead to a longer-standing 'humour episode', and it is these that lift mood and have an effect on interpersonal contact, deepening affection and also helping to shape group norms of what behaviour is desirable - including 'humour is ok'. Hence, a positive feedback loop or wheel. Not every humour instance need be joy inducing; a wry comment can be sufficient to seed the ground and make it possible for other moments to follow.

What could be the consequences of the positive affect that humour elicits?  Frederickson's broaden-and-build theory suggests it encourages us to approach opportunities rather than retreat: exploration and playness ensue, allowing us to build positive resources for the future. This is a good way to make sense of the manifold effects of positive affect - on health, cooperation, organisational citizenship, job satisfaction, flow and more. And as negative states can form their own feedback loops, humour can be valuable as a derailer - its disruptive, intrusive quality ringing out over frustration or fear. Getting a 'humour wheel' going in regular work teams is clearly useful, and other contexts suggested by the authors include mentoring, where the importance of satisfying and informal relationships would naturally fit with humorous episodes, and also leadership, where leader affect is known to be contagious to employees, and the oft-desired transformational style is linked to humour usage. They call for deeper research into these areas, as well as how humour may work against tendencies to absenteesim and attrition, and suggest that 'humor might be an unsung hero in peoples’ day-to-day affective lives.'

ResearchBlogging.orgChristopher Robert, & James E Wilbanks (2012). The Wheel Model of humor: Humor events and affect in organizations Human Relations, 65 (9), 1071-1099 DOI: 10.1177/0018726711433133

Friday, 7 September 2012

Having more - even more to lose - makes you happier to commit to organisational change

Imagine Simone and Bridget are two professionals working in the same organisation. Bridget's role is prominent,  provides her with regular development and has an excellent bonus scheme. Her boss is encouraging and supportive. Simone is on similar pay but is based in a department that doesn't do bonuses, is underappreciated by the rest of the organisation and neglects staff development. Her boss is aloof and absent.

Along comes a sweeping organisational change program - new departments, different reporting lines, role reviews, the works. Who should be most resistant? My money would have been on Bridget: the one with most to lose. But research from Jiseon Shin and colleagues at the University of Maryland suggests the opposite: that being in receipt of 'organisational inducements' prior to a change program makes you more likely to support it.

Shin's team conducted surveys with employees from a South Korean company who were going through changes of the sort described above. For the first survey, three weeks before the changes began, participants rated organisational inducements, which involves both material benefits like health care or pay, as well as less tangible factors like development support. At time two, five months into the change program, participants expressed their commitment to change, both in terms of their cool, rational take on it - normative commitment - and their 'affective commitment' - the emotional connection now recognised as a key component of buy-in. In addition, their managers  rated whether they put this into practice, by vocally supporting the change in the presence of others or coming up with new ideas that fit with the change.

The analysis revealed that higher organisational inducements were associated with more commitment to change, both affective and normative. Why would this be? It turns out that inducements heighten both state positive affect and sense of social exchange, both measured in employees at time two. The former involves feelings of excitement and enthusiasm, and the latter is the belief that the organisation engages in reciprocity, paying back what is put into it. The better employees felt treated, the better they felt – positive affect in itself buffering anxieties – and the more they trusted they would be treated well later on. These two factors were shown to be the mechanism that caused higher commitment. What this commitment led to was slightly more complicated, but the upshot was that normative commitment had more dependable consequences, leading to both more frequent change behaviours and lower turnover, measured twenty-two months later.

A key take-away from this study for organisations is that to better manage change initiatives, they need to pay careful attention to the conditions that precede the change. If employees feel they have had been treated right to date, they are more willing and more able to surf the ambiguities of newly introduced change. If they feel otherwise, they're likely to face the future at a low ebb, thin on hope.

ResearchBlogging.orgJiseon Chin, M Susan Taylor, & Myeong-Gu Seo (2012). Resources for Change: The Relationships of Organizational Inducements and Psychological Resilience to Employees' Attitudes and Behaviors Toward Organizational Change Academy of Management Journal, 55 (3), 727-748 DOI: 10.5465/amj.2010.0325