Organizational Culture

Emotional Crossover in the Workplace

Emotions in the workplace have been frequently discussed for  some time now. Surprisingly, there has been little focus on the amount individuals’ experiences at work are interwoven with the experiences of those they interact with. This phenomenon is known as crossover- the process by which an individual’s emotional state influences the emotional state of another individual.

When Can Crossover Occur?

Crossover can occur during positive and negative work events. For example, during positive work events (e.g., exciting new project) an employee’s heightened work engagement can crossover to coworkers. On the other hand, during negative work events (e.g. unrewarding, tedious project) an employee’s burnout can crossover.  Also, stress and anxiety have been shown to crossover within colleagues of the same work environment.

Crossover and Affect Intensity

Crossover is partially controlled by the degree an individual experiences emotion, also known as affect intensity.  More specifically, Affect Intensity (AI) is described as the varying intensity in which individuals experience emotions in reaction to workplace events and people such as upcoming deadlines or supervisors. Individuals with high AI tend to focus more on the negative or positive side of things; therefore, they report stronger emotional reactions than those with low AI.” Because of their higher emotional reactivity, high AI individuals may be more susceptible to crossover, especially from one individual with high AI to another with high AI. Thus, understanding AI within each individual may lead to better management of crossover within the work environment.

Implications for Practice

Applying the knowledge of crossover, one should strive to reduce the number of negative work events and encourage a more positive work environment where positive crossover can occur. Specifically, one should implement practices that encourage:”
  • Increases in positive emotion and action, which lead to positive resources including creativity and problem solving.
  • An “undoing effect,” where those encountering negative emotions (e.g., anger or fear) overcome negative physical reactions more rapidly.
  • An “upward spiral,” where individuals are more resilient and thus better able to overcome negative outcomes while seeking out positive ones – through crossover “upward spirals” occur at the individual, group, and team level.
Although these may seem quite obvious, consider the following:  positive emotions have been linked to helping behaviors, creative problem-solving, collaborative negotiation, and effective decision making strategies.  Satisfied employees are more likely to feel engaged at work, be intrinsically motivated, committed to a company, and receive higher performance ratings.  Employee satisfaction can lead to positive crossover effects, which leads to better morale within the workplace and higher positive outcomes. Overall, positive emotional crossover is likely to have beneficial effects at the individual and organizational level, while understanding negative implications of crossover (e.g., burnout) may allow for better control of these outcomes.  Lastly, understanding affect intensity can help predict individual employees’ susceptibility to emotional crossover

Interpretation by:

Adam Bradshaw

The DeGarmo Group

This was a summary of the research and practice implications from: Hartel, C. & Page, K.M. (2009). Discrete emotional crossover in the workplace: The role of affect intensity. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 24 (3), 237-253.