Chapter 7: Managing Stress and Emotions

Learning Objectives

After reading this chapter, you should be able to do the following:

  1. Understand the stress cycle.
  2. Recognize the sources of stress for employees.
  3. Recognize the outcomes of stress.
  4. Understand how to manage stress in organizational contexts.
  5. Learn about emotional labour and how to manage it.

The Battle For Truth: Trust In NGOs In 2018 And Beyond

Edelman Canada
Figure 7.1 Edelman Canada

Edelman Canada, a family-owned, independent communications marketing agency works closely with Osteoporosis Canada. They recently held a forum where key to the discussion was the importance of trust when engaging the public in NGOs (nongovernment agencies).

Trust and NGOs

For nearly 20 years, Edelman has been tracking trust. The Edelman Trust Barometer is the largest study of its kind, looking at trust across four key institutions: government, media, business, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Some key findings from the Canadian arm of the survey has been compiled in the following. This year revealed a surprising shift with trust in NGOs declining by nine points. We saw a fascinating year-over-year comparison of how Canadians responded when asked if they trust NGOs. In 2018, we dropped significantly over the past year, to one of the lowest historical points, with only half of the general population saying they trust NGOs. We’re on the cusp between the “neutral” and “distrusting” categories. NGOs need to return to being the most trusted institute in Canada. Here are three key ways to achieve this:

1. Agents of Change

Firstly, Canadians want and expect NGOs to drive change. We asked Canadian respondents to confirm which action they considered important for NGOs to build trust in. Their answers were:

  • Improve quality of life
  • Inform good life decisions
  • Create a sense of community

Communications marketing—with a focus on thoughtful storytelling, building relationships and earned influence—can do all three effectively.

2. Clarity, Balance, and Validation

Secondly, in a world increasingly anxious about fake news, trust depends on clarity, balance and validation. Canadians want information that is non-partisan and isn’t motivated by profits or politics. They want to hear genuine voices, and that means clear communication, balancing an argument by discussing (and hearing) both sides, and validating information by grounding it in solid research and credible, third-party endorsements.

3. Credible, Authoritative Voices

Finally, because of this, Canadians have a renewed appetite for credible, authoritative voices. This means mobilizing health professionals and researchers, for example. It is also an opportunity for senior leadership at NGOs to increase their public presence to build trust. As we hear from more authoritative voices, and organizations focus on those trust-building activities Canadians expect, NGOs may rebuild trust with the Canadian general population.

Trust and other emotions play a critical role in organizational reputation, and ultimately success. This chapter will explore the role of emotions in general on workplace success and the impact of stress on people within organizations.

7.1 What Is Stress?

Gravity. Mass. Magnetism. These words come from the physical sciences. So does the term stress. In its original form, the word stress relates to the amount of force applied to a given area. A steel bar stacked with bricks is being stressed in ways that can be measured using mathematical formulas. In human terms, psychiatrist Peter Panzarino notes, “Stress is simply a fact of nature—forces from the outside world affecting the individual” (Panzarino, 2008). The professional, personal, and environmental pressures of modern life exert their forces on us every day. Some of these pressures are good. Others can wear us down over time.

Stress is defined by psychologists as the body’s reaction to a change that requires a physical, mental, or emotional adjustment or response (Dyer, 2006). Stress is an inevitable feature of life. It is the force that gets us out of bed in the morning, motivates us at the gym, and inspires us to work.

We may not be able to avoid stress completely, but we can change how we respond to stress, which is a major benefit. Our ability to recognize, manage, and maximize our response to stress can turn an emotional or physical problem into a resource.

Researchers use polling to measure the effects of stress at work. The results have been eye-opening. According to a 2001 Gallup poll, 80% of American workers report that they feel workplace stress at least some of the time (Kersten, 2002). Another survey found that 65% of workers reported job stress as an issue for them, and almost as many employees ended the day exhibiting physical effects of stress, including neck pain, aching muscles, and insomnia. It is clear that many individuals are stressed at work.

Workplace Stressors

Stressors are events or contexts that cause a stress reaction by elevating levels of adrenaline and forcing a physical or mental response. The key to remember about stressors is that they aren’t necessarily a bad thing. The saying “the straw that broke the camel’s back” applies to stressors. Having a few stressors in our lives may not be a problem, but because stress is cumulative, having many stressors day after day can cause a buildup that becomes a problem. The American Psychological Association surveys American adults about their stresses annually. Topping the list of stressful issues are money, work, and housing (American Psychological Association, 2007). But in essence, we could say that all three issues come back to the workplace. How much we earn determines the kind of housing we can afford, and when job security is questionable, home life is generally affected as well.

Understanding what can potentially cause stress can help avoid negative consequences. Now we will examine the major stressors in the workplace.

A major category of workplace stressors are role demands. In other words, some jobs and some work contexts are more potentially stressful than others.

Role Demands

Figure 7.2 George Lucas, one of the most successful filmmakers of all time, found making The Empire Strikes Back stressful both personally and financially. Those who worked with him on those early Star Wars films describe him as fully engrossed in the process, which led to role overload and work–family conflict. Following the making of that film, Lucas said he was “burnt out” and didn’t want to make any more Star Wars films. Wikimedia Commons – CC BY-SA 2.0.
Figure 7.2 George Lucas, one of the most successful filmmakers of all time, found making The Empire Strikes Back stressful both personally and financially. Those who worked with him on those early Star Wars films describe him as fully engrossed in the process, which led to role overload and work–family conflict. Following the making of that film, Lucas said he was “burnt out” and didn’t want to make any more Star Wars films. Wikimedia Commons – CC BY-SA 2.0.

Role ambiguity refers to vagueness in what our responsibilities are. If you started a new job and felt unclear about what you were expected to do, you have experienced role ambiguity. Having high role ambiguity is related to higher emotional exhaustion, more thoughts of leaving an organization, and lowered job attitudes and performance (Fisher & Gittelson, 1983; Jackson & Shuler, 1985; Örtqvist & Wincent, 2006). Role conflict refers to facing contradictory demands at work. For example, your manager may want you to increase customer satisfaction and

cut costs, while you feel that satisfying customers inevitably increases costs. In this case, you are experiencing role conflict because satisfying one demand makes it unlikely to satisfy the other. Role overload is defined as having insufficient time and resources to complete a job. When an organization downsizes, the remaining employees will have to complete the tasks that were previously performed by the laid-off workers, which often leads to role overload. Like role ambiguity, both role conflict and role overload have been shown to hurt

performance and lower job attitudes; however, research shows that role ambiguity is the strongest predictor of poor performance (Gilboa et al., 2008; Tubre & Collins, 2000). Research on new employees also shows that role ambiguity is a key aspect of their adjustment, and that when role ambiguity is high, new employees struggle to fit into the new organization (Bauer et al., 2007).

Information Overload

Messages reach us in countless ways every day. Some are societal—advertisements that we may hear or see in the course of our day. Others are professional—e-mails, memos, voice mails, and conversations with our colleagues. Others are personal—messages and conversations from our loved ones and friends. Add these together and it’s easy to see how we may be receiving more information than we can take in. This state of imbalance is known as information overload, which can be defined as “occurring when the information processing demands on an individual’s time to perform interactions and internal calculations exceed the supply or capacity of time available for such processing” (Schick, Gordon, & Haka, 1990). Role overload has been made much more salient because of the ease at which we can get abundant information from web search engines and the numerous e-mail and text messages we receive each day (Dawley & Anthony, 2003). Other research shows that working in such a fragmented fashion significantly impacts efficiency, creativity, and mental acuity (Overholt, 2001).

imageWork–Family Conflict

Work–family conflict occurs when the demands from work and family are negatively affecting one another (Netemeyer, Boles, & McMurrian, 1996). Specifically, work and family demands on a person may be incompatible with each other such that work interferes with family life and family demands interfere with work life. This stressor has steadily increased in prevalence, as work has become more demanding and technology has allowed employees to work from home and be connected to the job around the clock. In fact, a recent census showed that 28% of the American workforce works more than 40 hours per week, creating an unavoidable spillover from work to family life (U.S. Census Bureau, 2004). Moreover, the fact that more households have dual-earning families in which both adults work means household and childcare duties are no longer the sole responsibility of a stay-at-home parent. This trend only compounds stress from the workplace by leading to the spillover of family responsibilities (such as a sick child or elderly parent) to work life. Research shows that individuals who have stress in one area of their life tend to have greater stress in other parts of their lives, which can create a situation of escalating stressors (Allen et al., 2000; Ford, Heinen, & Langkamer, 2007; Frone, Russell, & Cooper, 1992; Hammer, Bauer, & Grandey, 2003).

Work–family conflict has been shown to be related to lower job and life satisfaction. Interestingly, it seems that work–family conflict is slightly more problematic for women than men (Kossek & Ozeki, 1998). Organizations that are able to help their employees achieve greater work–life balance are seen as more attractive than those that do not (Barnett & Hall, 2001; Greenhaus & Powell, 2006). Organizations can help employees maintain work–life balance by using organizational practices such as flexibility in scheduling as well as individual practices such as having supervisors who are supportive and considerate of employees’ family life (Thomas & Ganster, 1995).

Life Changes

Stress can result from positive and negative life changes. The Holmes-Rahe scale ascribes different stress values to life events ranging from the death of one’s spouse to receiving a ticket for a minor traffic violation. The values are based on incidences of illness and death in the 12 months after each event. On the Holmes-Rahe scale, the death of a spouse receives a stress rating of 100, getting married is seen as a midway stressful event, with a rating of 50, and losing one’s job is rated as 47. These numbers are relative values that allow us to understand the impact of different life events on our stress levels and their ability to impact our health and well-being (Fontana, 1989). Again, because stressors are cumulative, higher scores on the stress inventory mean you are more prone to suffering negative consequences of stress than someone with a lower score.

Outcomes of Stress

The outcomes of stress are categorized into physiological, psychological, and work outcomes.


Stress manifests itself internally as nervousness, tension, headaches, anger, irritability, and fatigue. Stress can also have outward manifestations. Dr. Dean Ornish, author of Stress, Diet and Your Heart, says that stress is related to aging (Ornish, 1984). Chronic stress causes the body to secrete hormones such as cortisol, which tend to make our complexion blemished and cause wrinkles. Harvard psychologist Ted Grossbart, author of Skin Deep, says, “Tens of millions of Americans suffer from skin diseases that flare up only when they’re upset” (Grossbart, 1992). These skin problems include itching, profuse sweating, warts, hives, acne, and psoriasis. For example, Roger Smith, the former CEO of General Motors Corporation, was featured in a Fortune article that began, “His normally ruddy face is covered with a red rash, a painless but disfiguring problem which Smith says his doctor attributes 99% to stress” (Taylor, 1987).

The human body responds to outside calls to action by pumping more blood through our system, breathing in a shallower fashion, and gazing wide-eyed at the world. To accomplish this feat, our bodies shut down our immune systems. From a biological point of view, it’s a smart strategic move—but only in the short term. The idea can be seen as your body wanting to escape an imminent threat, so that there is still some kind of body around to get sick later. But in the long term, a body under constant stress can suppress its immune system too much, leading to health problems such as high blood pressure, ulcers, and being overly susceptible to illnesses such as the common cold.


Depression and anxiety are two psychological outcomes of unchecked stress, which are as dangerous to our mental health and welfare as heart disease, high blood pressure, and strokes. The Harris poll found that 11% of respondents said their stress was accompanied by a sense of depression. “Persistent or chronic stress has the potential to put vulnerable individuals at a substantially increased risk of depression, anxiety, and many other emotional difficulties,” notes Mayo Clinic psychiatrist Daniel Hall-Flavin. Scientists have noted that changes in brain function—especially in the areas of the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland—may play a key role in stress-induced emotional problems (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2008).

Work Outcomes

Stress is related to worse job attitudes, higher turnover, and decreases in job performance in terms of both in-role performance and organizational citizenship behaviours (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2008; Gilboa et al., 2008; Podsakoff et al., 2007). Research also shows that stressed individuals have lower organizational commitment than those who are less stressed (Cropanzano, Rupp, & Byrne, 2003). Interestingly, job challenge has been found to be related to higher performance, perhaps with some individuals rising to the challenge (Podsakoff et al., 2007). The key is to keep challenges in the optimal zone for stress—the activation stage—and to avoid the exhaustion stage (Quick et al., 1997).

Figure 7.3 Individuals who are able to find the right balance between work that is too challenging and work that is not challenging enough see increases in performance.
Figure 7.3 Individuals who are able to find the right balance between work that is too challenging and work that is not challenging enough see increases in performance.

Individual Differences in Experienced Stress

How we handle stress varies by individual, and part of that issue has to do with our personality type. Type A personalities, as defined by the Jenkins Activity Survey (Jenkins, Zyzanski, & Rosenman, 1979), display high levels of speed/impatience, job involvement, and hard-driving competitiveness. If you think back to Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome, in which unchecked stress can lead to illness over time, it’s easy to see how the fast-paced, adrenaline-pumping lifestyle of a Type A person can lead to increased stress, and research supports this view (Spector & O’Connell, 1994). Studies show that the hostility and hyper-reactive portion of the Type A personality is a major concern in terms of stress and negative organizational outcomes (Ganster, 1986).

Type B personalities, by contrast, are calmer by nature. They think through situations as opposed to reacting emotionally. Their fight-or-flight and stress levels are lower as a result. Our personalities are the outcome of our life experiences and, to some degree, our genetics. Some researchers believe that mothers who experience a great deal of stress during pregnancy introduce their unborn babies to high levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol in utero, predisposing their babies to a stressful life from birth (BBC News, 2007).

Men and women also handle stress differently. Researchers at Yale University discovered estrogen may heighten women’s response to stress and their tendency to depression as a result (Weaver, 2004). Still, others believe that women’s stronger social networks allow them to process stress more effectively than men (Personality, n.d.). So while women may become depressed more often than men, women may also have better tools for countering emotion-related stress than their male counterparts.

7.2 Avoiding and Managing Stress

Individual Approaches to Managing Stress

The Corporate Athlete

Luckily, there are several ways to manage stress. One way is to harness stress’s ability to improve our performance. Jack Groppel was working as a professor of kinesiology and bioengineering at the University of Illinois when he became interested in applying the principles of athletic performance to workplace performance. Could eating better, exercising more, and developing a positive attitude turn distress into eustress? Groppel’s answer was yes. If professionals trained their minds and bodies to perform at peak levels through better nutrition, focused training, and positive action, Groppel said, they could become “corporate athletes” working at optimal physical, emotional, and mental levels.

The “corporate athlete” approach to stress is a proactive (action first) rather than a reactive (response- driven) approach. While an overdose of stress can cause some individuals to stop exercising, eat less nutritional foods, and develop a sense of hopelessness, corporate athletes ward off the potentially overwhelming feelings of stress by developing strong bodies and minds that embrace challenges, as opposed to being overwhelmed by them.


Turning stress into fuel for corporate athleticism is one way of transforming a potential enemy into a workplace ally. Another way to transform stress is by breaking challenges into smaller parts, and embracing the ones that give us joy. In doing so, we can enter a state much like that of a child at play, fully focused on the task at hand, losing track of everything except our genuine connection to the challenge before us. This concept of total engagement in one’s work, or in other activities, is called flow.

The term flow was coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and is defined as a state of consciousness in which a person is totally absorbed in an activity. We’ve all experienced flow: It’s the state of mind in which you feel strong, alert, and in effortless control.

Figure 7.4 Sources: Adapted from information in Bruch, H., & Ghoshal, S. (2002, February). Beware the busy manager. Harvard Business Review, 80, 62–69; Schiuma, G., Mason, S., & Kennerley, M. (2007). Assessing energy within organizations. Measuring Business Excellence, 11, 69–78.
Figure 7.4 Sources: Adapted from information in Bruch, H., & Ghoshal, S. (2002, February). Beware the busy manager. Harvard Business Review, 80, 62–69; Schiuma, G., Mason, S., & Kennerley, M. (2007). Assessing energy within organizations. Measuring Business Excellence, 11, 69–78.

Next, let us focus more on exactly how individual lifestyle choices affect our stress levels. Eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep, and employing time management techniques are all things we can affect that can decrease our feelings of stress.

Figure 7.5 Eating healthy foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables is a key to stress management. Yukiko Matsuoka – Vegetable – CC BY-NC 2.0.
Figure 7.5 Eating healthy foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables is a key to stress management. Yukiko Matsuoka – Vegetable – CC BY-NC 2.0.

Greasy foods often make a person feel tired. Why? Because it takes the body longer to digest fats, which means the body is diverting blood from the brain and making you feel sluggish. Eating big, heavy meals in the middle of the day may actually slow us down, because the body will be pumping blood to the stomach, away from the brain. A better choice for lunch might be fish, such as wild salmon. Fish keeps you alert because of its effect on two important brain chemicals—dopamine and norepinephrine—which produce a feeling of alertness, increased concentration, and faster reaction times (Wurtman, 1988).


Exercise is another strategy for managing stress. The best kind of break to take may be a physically active one. Research has shown that physically active breaks lead to enhanced mental concentration and decreased mental fatigue. One study, conducted by Belgian researchers, examined the effect of breaks on workers in a large manufacturing company. One-half of the workers were told to rest during their breaks. The other half did mild calisthenics. Afterward, each group was given a battery of tests. The group who had done the mild calisthenics scored far better on all measures of memory, decision-making ability, hand-eye coordination, and fine motor control (Miller, 1986).

Strange as it may seem, exercise gives us more energy. How energetic we feel depends on our maximum oxygen capacity (the total amount of oxygen we utilize from the air we breathe). The more oxygen we absorb in each breath, the more energy and stamina we will have. Yoga and meditation are other physical activities that are helpful in managing stress. Regular exercise increases our body’s ability to draw more oxygen out of the air we breathe. Therefore, taking physically active breaks may be helpful in combating stress.


It is a vicious cycle. Stress can make it hard to sleep. Not sleeping makes it harder to focus on work in general, as well as on specific tasks. Tired folks are more likely to lose their temper, upping the stress level of others. American insomnia is a stress-related epidemic—one-third of adults claim to have trouble sleeping and 37% admit to actually having fallen asleep while driving in the past year (Tumminello, 2007).

The work–life crunch experienced by many Americans makes a good night’s sleep seem out of reach. According to the journal Sleep, workers who suffer from insomnia are more likely to miss work due to exhaustion. These missed days ultimately cost employers thousands of dollars per person in missed productivity each year, which can total over $100 billion across all industries. As you might imagine, a person who misses work due to exhaustion will return to work to find an even more stressful workload. This cycle can easily increase the stress level of the team as well as the overtired individual.

For additional resources, go to the National Sleep Foundation website:

Create a Social Support Network

A consistent finding is that those individuals who have a strong social support network are less stressed than those who do not (Halbesleben, 2006). Research finds that social support can buffer the effects of stress (Van Yperfen & Hagedoorn, 2003). Individuals can help build up social support by encouraging a team atmosphere in which coworkers support one another. Just being able to talk with and listen to others, either with coworkers at work or with friends and family at home, can help decrease stress levels.

Time Management

Time management is defined as the development of tools or techniques that help to make us more productive when we work. Effective time management is a major factor in reducing stress, because it decreases much of the pressure we feel. With information and role overload it is easy to fall into bad habits of simply reacting to unexpected situations. Time management techniques include prioritizing, manageable organization, and keeping a schedule such as a paper or electronic organizing tool. Just like any new skill, developing time management takes conscious effort, but the gains might be worthwhile if your stress level is reduced.

Organizational Approaches to Managing Stress

Stress-related issues cost businesses billions of dollars per year in absenteeism, accidents, and lost productivity (Hobson, 2004). As a result, managing employee stress is an important concern for organizations as well as individuals. For example, Renault, the French automaker, invites consultants to train their 2,100 supervisors to avoid the outcomes of negative stress for themselves and their subordinates. IBM Corporation encourages its worldwide employees to take an online stress assessment that helps them create action plans based on their results. Even organizations such as General Electric Company (GE), known for their “winner takes all” mentality, are seeing the need to reduce stress. Lately, GE has brought in comedians to lighten up the workplace atmosphere, and those receiving low performance ratings are no longer called the “bottom 10s” but are now referred to as the “less effectives” (Dispatches from the war on stress, 2007). Organizations can take many steps to helping employees with stress, including having more clear expectations of them, creating jobs where employees have autonomy and control, and creating a fair work environment. Finally, larger organizations normally utilize outside resources to help employees get professional help when needed.

Make Expectations Clear

One way to reduce stress is to state your expectations clearly. Workers who have clear descriptions of their jobs experience less stress than those whose jobs are ill defined (Jackson & Schuler, 1985; Sauter, Murphy, & Hurrell, 1990). The same thing goes for individual tasks. Can you imagine the benefits of working in a place where every assignment was clear and employees were content and focused on their work? It would be a great place to work as a manager, too. Stress can be contagious, but as we’ve seen above, this kind of happiness can be contagious too. Creating clear expectations doesn’t have to be a top–down event. Managers may be unaware that their directives are increasing their subordinates’ stress by upping their confusion. In this case, a gentle conversation that steers a project in a clearer direction can be a simple but powerful way to reduce stress. In the interest of reducing stress on all sides, it’s important to frame situations as opportunities for solutions as opposed to sources of anger.

Give Employees Autonomy

Giving employees a sense of autonomy is another thing that organizations can do to help relieve stress (Kossek, Lautschb, & Eaton, 2006). It has long been known that one of the most stressful things that individuals deal with is a lack of control over their environment. Research shows that individuals who feel a greater sense of control at work deal with stress more effectively both in the United States and in Hong Kong (Schaubroeck, Lam, & Xie, 2000). Similarly, in a study of American and French employees, researchers found that the negative effects of emotional labour were much less for those employees with the autonomy to customize their work environment and customer service encounters (Grandey, Fisk, & Steiner, 2005). Employees’ stress levels are likely to be related to the degree that organizations can build autonomy and support into jobs.

Create Fair Work Environments

Work environments that are unfair and unpredictable have been labelled “toxic workplaces.” A toxic workplace is one in which a company does not value its employees or treat them fairly (Webber, 1998). Statistically, organizations that value employees are more profitable than those that do not (Huselid, 1995; Pfeffer, 1998; Pfeffer & Veiga, 1999; Welbourne & Andrews, 1996). Research shows that working in an environment that is seen as fair helps to buffer the effects of stress (Judge & Colquitt, 2004). This reduced stress may be because employees feel a greater sense of status and self-esteem or due to a greater sense of trust within the organization. These findings hold for outcomes individuals receive as well as the process for distributing those outcomes (Greenberg, 2004). Whatever the case, it is clear that organizations have many reasons to create work environments characterized by fairness, including lower stress levels for employees. In fact, one study showed that training supervisors to be more interpersonally sensitive even helped nurses feel less stressed about a pay cut (Greenberg, 2006).

Figure 7.6 Telecommuting helps employees avoid traffic jams like this one. Jonbgem – Traffic – CC BY-NC 2.0.
Figure 7.6 Telecommuting helps employees avoid traffic jams like this one. Jonbgem – Traffic – CC BY-NC 2.0.

Telecommuting refers to working remotely. For example, some employees work from home, a remote satellite office, or from a coffee shop for some portion of the workweek. Being able to work away from the office is one option that can decrease stress for some employees. Of course, while an estimated 45 million individuals telecommute each year, telecommuting is not for everyone (WorldatWork, 2006). At Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc., those who are interested in telecommuting are put through a rigorous training program that includes 2 weeks in one of their three home office simulation labs in Florida, New Jersey, or Manhattan to see if telecommuting is a good fit for the employee. Employees must also submit photos of their home office and a work plan. AT&T Inc. estimates that nearly 55% of its U.S.-based managers telecommute at some point in the week, and this method is also popular with managers around the world (AT&T, 2004). A recent survey found that 43% of government workers now telecommute at least part-time. This trend has been growing in reaction to a law passed by the U.S. Congress in 2000 requiring federal agencies to offer working from home as an option (Gross, 2008). Merrill Lynch has seen higher productivity, less stress, lower turnover, and higher job satisfaction for those who telecommute (Chadderdon, 2007). A recent meta-analysis of all the studies of telecommuting (12,883 employees) confirmed researcher findings that the higher autonomy of working from home resulted in lower work–family conflict for these employees. Even more encouraging were the findings of higher job satisfaction, better performance, and lower stress as well (Gajendran & Harrison, 2007). Of course, telecommuting can also cause potential stress. The keys to successful telecommuting arrangements are to match the right employees with the right jobs to the right environments. If any variable is not within a reasonable range, such as having a dog that barks all day when the employee is at home, productivity will suffer.

Employee Sabbaticals

Sabbaticals (paid time off from the normal routine at work) have long been a sacred ritual practiced by universities to help faculty stay current, work on large research projects, and recharge every 5 to 8 years. However, many companies such as Genentech Inc., Container Store Inc., and eBay Inc. are now in the practice of granting paid sabbaticals to their employees. While 11% of large companies offer paid sabbaticals and 29% offer unpaid sabbaticals, 16% of small companies and 21% of medium-sized companies do the same (Schwartz, 1999). For example, at PricewaterhouseCoopers International Ltd., you can apply for a sabbatical after just 2 years on the job if you agree to stay with the company for at least 1 year following your break. Time off ranges from 3 to 6 months and entails either a personal growth plan or one for social services where you help others (Sahadi, 2006).

Employee Assistance Programs

There are times when life outside work causes stress in ways that will impact our lives at work and beyond. These situations may include the death of a loved one, serious illness, drug and alcohol dependencies, depression, or legal or financial problems that are interfering with our work lives. Although treating such stressors is beyond the scope of an organization or a manager, many companies offer their employees outside sources for emotional counselling. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are often offered to workers as an adjunct to a company-provided health care plan. Small companies in particular use outside employee assistance programs, because they don’t have the needed expertise in-house. As their name implies, EAPs offer help in dealing with crises in the workplace and beyond. EAPs are often used to help workers who have substance abuse problems.imageimage

7.3 What Are Emotions?

Types of Emotions

Financial analysts measure the value of a company in terms of profits and stock. For employees, however, the value of a job is also emotional. The root of the word emotion comes from a French term meaning “to stir up.” And that’s a great place to begin our investigation of emotions at work. More formally, an emotion is defined as a short, intense feeling resulting from some event. Not everyone reacts to the same situation in the same way. For example, a manager’s way of speaking can cause one person to feel motivated, another to feel angry, and a third to feel sad. Emotions can influence whether a person is receptive to advice, whether they will quit a job, and how they will perform individually or on a team (Cole, Walter, & Bruch, 2008; George & Jones, 1996; Gino & Schweitzer, 2008). Of course, as you know, emotions can be positive or negative.

Positive emotions such as joy, love, and surprise result from our reaction to desired events. In the workplace, these events may include achieving a goal or receiving praise from a superior. Individuals experiencing a positive emotion may feel peaceful, content, and calm. A positive feeling generates a sensation of having something you didn’t have before. As a result, it may cause you to feel fulfilled and satisfied. Positive feelings have been shown to dispose a person to optimism, and a positive emotional state can make difficult challenges feel more achievable (Kirby, 2001). This is because being positive can lead to upward positive spirals where your good mood brings about positive outcomes, thereby reinforcing the good mood (Frederickson & Joiner, 2002).

Negative emotions such as anger, fear, and sadness can result from undesired events. In the workplace, these events may include not having your opinions heard, a lack of control over your day-to-day environment, and unpleasant interactions with colleagues, customers, and superiors. Negative emotions play a role in the conflict process, with those who can manage their negative emotions finding themselves in fewer conflicts than those who cannot.

The unwanted side effects of negative emotions at work are easy to see: an angry colleague is left alone to work through the anger; a jealous colleague is excluded from office gossip, which is also the source of important office news. But you may be surprised to learn that negative emotions can help a company’s productivity in some cases.

7.4 Emotions at Work

Emotions Affect Attitudes and Behaviours at Work

Emotions shape an individual’s belief about the value of a job, a company, or a team. Emotions also affect behaviours at work. Research shows that individuals within your own inner circle are better able to recognize and understand your emotions (Elfenbein & Ambady, 2002).

Figure 7.7
Figure 7.7

So, what is the connection between emotions, attitudes, and behaviours at work? This connection may be explained using a theory named Affective Events Theory (AET). Researchers, Howard Weiss and Russell Cropanzano, studied the effects of six major kinds of emotions in the workplace: anger, fear, joy, love, sadness, and surprise (Weiss & Cropanzano, 1996). Their theory argues that specific events on the job cause different kinds of people to feel different emotions. These emotions, in turn, inspire actions that can benefit or impede others at work (Fisher, 2002).

Jobs that are high in negative emotion can lead to frustration and burnout—an ongoing negative emotional state resulting from dissatisfaction (Lee & Ashforth, 1996; Maslach, 1982; Maslach & Jackson, 1981). Depression, anxiety, anger, physical illness, increased drug and alcohol use, and insomnia can result from frustration and burnout, with frustration being somewhat more active and burnout more passive. The effects of both conditions can impact coworkers, customers, and clients as anger boils over and is expressed in one’s interactions with others (Lewandowski, 2003).

Emotional Labour

Negative emotions are common among workers in service industries. Individuals who work in manufacturing rarely meet their customers face-to-face. If they’re in a bad mood, the customer would not know. Service jobs are just the opposite. Part of a service employee’s job is appearing a certain way in the eyes of the public. Individuals in service industries are professional helpers. As such, they are expected to be upbeat, friendly, and polite at all times, which can be exhausting to accomplish in the long run.

Humans are emotional creatures by nature. In the course of a day, we experience many emotions. Think about your day thus far. Can you identify times when you were happy to deal with other people and times that you wanted to be left alone? Now imagine trying to hide all the emotions you’ve felt today for 8 hours or more at work. That’s what cashiers, school teachers, massage therapists, fire fighters, and librarians, among other professionals, are asked to do. Emotional labour refers to the regulation of feelings and expressions for organizational purposes (Grandey, 2000).

Emotional Intelligence

One way to manage the effects of emotional labour is by increasing your awareness of the gaps between real emotions and emotions that are required by your professional persona. “What am I feeling? And what do others feel?” These questions form the heart of emotional intelligence. The term was coined by psychologists Peter Salovey and John Mayer and was popularized by psychologist Daniel Goleman in a book of the same name. Emotional intelligence looks at how people can understand each other more completely by developing an increased awareness of their own and others’ emotions (Carmeli, 2003).

There are four building blocks involved in developing a high level of emotional intelligence. Self- awareness exists when you are able to accurately perceive, evaluate, and display appropriate emotions. Self-management exists when you are able to direct your emotions in a positive way when needed. Social awareness exists when you are able to understand how others feel. Relationship management exists when you are able to help others manage their own emotions and truly establish supportive relationships with others (Elfenbein & Ambady, 2002; Weisinger, 1998).

Figure 7.8 The four steps of emotional intelligence build upon one another.
Figure 7.8 The four steps of emotional intelligence build upon one another.

In the workplace, emotional intelligence can be used to form harmonious teams by taking advantage of the talents of every member. To accomplish this, colleagues well versed in emotional intelligence can look for opportunities to motivate themselves and inspire others to work together (Goleman, 1995). Chief among the emotions that helped create a successful team, Goleman learned, was empathy—the ability to put oneself in another’s shoes, whether that individual has achieved a major triumph or fallen short of personal goals (Goleman, 1998). Those high in emotional intelligence have been found to have higher self-efficacy in coping with adversity, perceive situations as challenges rather than threats, and have higher life satisfaction, which can all help lower stress levels (Law, Wong, & Song, 2004; Mikolajczak & Luminet, 2008).

Getting Emotional: The Case of American Express

Death and money can be emotional topics. Sales reps at American Express Company’s (NYSE: AXP) life insurance division had to deal with both these issues when selling life insurance, and they were starting to feel the strain of working with such volatile emotional materials every day. Part of the problem representatives faced seemed like an unavoidable side effect of selling life insurance. Many potential clients were responding fearfully to the sales representatives’ calls. Others turned their fears into anger. They replied to the representatives’ questions suspiciously or treated them as untrustworthy.

The sales force at American Express believed in the value of their work, but over time, customers’ negative emotions began to erode employee morale. Sales of policies slowed. Management insisted that the representatives ignore their customers’ feelings and focus on making sales. The representatives’ more aggressive sales tactics seemed only to increase their clients’ negative emotional responses, which kicked off the cycle of suffering again. It was apparent something had to change.

In an effort to understand the barriers between customers and sales representatives, a team led by Kate Cannon, a former American Express staffer and mental-health administrator, used a technique called emotional resonance to identify employees’ feelings about their work. Looking at the problem from an emotional point of view yielded dramatic insights about clients, sales representatives, and managers alike.

The first step she took was to acknowledge that the clients’ negative emotions were barriers to life insurance sales. Cannon explained, “People reported all kinds of emotional issues—fear, suspicion, powerlessness, and distrust—involved in buying life insurance.” Clients’ negative emotions, in turn, had sparked negative feelings among some American Express life insurance sales representatives, including feelings of incompetence, dread, untruthfulness, shame, and even humiliation. Management’s focus on sales had created an emotional disconnect between the sales reps’ work and their true personalities. Cannon discovered that sales representatives who did not acknowledge their clients’ distress felt dishonest. The emotional gap between their words and their true feelings only increased their distress.

Cannon also found some good news. Sales representatives who looked at their job from the customer’s point of view were flourishing. Their feelings and their words were in harmony. Clients trusted them. The trust between these more openly emotional sales representatives and their clients led to greater sales and job satisfaction. To see if emotional skills training could increase job satisfaction and sales among other members of the team, Cannon instituted a course in emotional awareness for a test group of American Express life insurance sales representatives. The goal of the course was to help employees recognize and manage their feelings. The results of the study proved the value of emotional clarity. Coping skills, as measured on standardized psychological tests, improved for the representatives who took Cannon’s course.

The emotional awareness training program had significant impact on American Express’s bottom line. Over time, as Cannon’s team expanded their emotion-based program, American Express life insurance sales rose by tens of millions of dollars. American Express’s exercise in emotional awareness shows that companies can profit when feelings are recognized and consciously managed. Employees whose work aligns with their true emotions make more believable corporate ambassadors. The positive use of emotion can benefit a company internally as well. According to a Gallup poll of over 2 million employees, the majority of workers rated a caring boss higher than increased salary or benefits. In the words of career expert and columnist Maureen Moriarty, “Good moods are good for business” (Kirkwood, 2002; Moriarty, 2007; Schwartz, 2008).image

7.5 Conclusion

Stress is a major concern for individuals and organizations. Exhaustion is the outcome of prolonged stress. Individuals and organizations can take many approaches to lessening the negative health and work outcomes associated with being overstressed. Emotions play a role in organizational life. Understanding these emotions helps individuals to manage them. Emotional labour can be taxing on individuals, while emotional intelligence may help individuals cope with the emotional demands of their jobs.

7.6 Exercises



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Organizational Behaviour by Seneca College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.