Organizational Culture

Managers Who Care

The workplace can be thought of as a living organism, in which each employee is a ‘cell’. In the same way that an organism can only function properly if all cells are working correctly, a workplace needs all employees to function in order to succeed. Negative emotion is an often overlooked problem that can hinder the functioning of an employee.

Negative Emotions in the Workplace

Stress, anxiety, and tension resulting from work and home life can lead to negative emotions, and these negative emotions can dramatically impair the functioning of an entire organization. Employees experiencing negative emotions often perform work less efficiently and with more errors, which can cause productivity problems for others. Additionally, these individuals can have a negative attitude towards others, causing negative emotions in others, thus, spreading an epidemic.

Changes in Views on Negative Emotions

For many years emotions at work were hidden, as people would rather walk around with a blindfold than see people having emotional problems and try to intervene. In fact, not only was there an unwillingness to help, but the mere act of showing negative emotions was taboo. Fortunately for employees and employers alike, recent changes in society and views of the workplace have led to a paradigm shift. Now, employees experiencing negative emotions at work may receive assistance from a coworker or supervisor, which can help enable employees and organizations to maintain high levels of performance.

Who Will Help

While it is clear that some people provide counsel more than others, how do we know who is more likely to help? One indicator of an individual’s propensity to help is positive affect, or the amount of ‘good emotions’ a person possesses. Those with more positive affect are more likely to help. People with high levels of positive affect often:
  • Are happier
  • Enjoy and seek out social contact
  • Are more sensitive and attentive to others
  • Are more overtly friendly
  • Can pass their positive emotions to others
Another important factor in whether people are likely to help others experiencing negative emotions is self-monitoring, or the extent to which a person monitors and controls himself based on his surroundings. Individuals who self-monitor are more likely to help. Some characteristics of self-monitors include:
  • Holding back negative thoughts
  • Responding to the emotional states of others
  • Trying to lift the spirits of others
  • Attentively noticing others’ emotions
  • Adjusting behavior to match the situation
Individuals who have more positive affect and are high self-monitors are more likely to engage in, and be successful in, helping others. However, there is one other, very important piece to the pie as it relates to the workplace: the individual must not feel ‘hand-cuffed’ by the organization’s rules. Particularly in management positions, people can feel hesitant to help if they feel the organization will frown on it. This hesitation can be based on an unwritten organizational culture that does not embrace emotional support or on specific rules that advise managers not to intervene when employees are experiencing negative emotions. The solution is, of course, to let management know that it is acceptable to help others experiencing negative emotions. Some companies may be more or less accepting of helping behaviors; therefore this should be addressed within the human resources department before taking action to determine the most acceptable behaviors at your organization.

Take Home Points

  • Negative emotions can be toxic to the workplace
  • High levels of positive affect and self-monitoring make it more likely that people will help others and be successful in the process
  • Organizations should make it clear through management trainings and organizational policies that it is acceptable to help others experiencing negative emotions
  • People who act as ‘emotion helpers’ provide an invaluable service to the company by increasing productivity
It is important to remember that, just as cells are vital to the functioning of a living organism, employees are also vital to the success of any organization, therefore, it is important that managers help employees deal with negative emotions to keep the organization productive and successful.

Interpretation by:

David Daly

DeGarmo Group

This was a summary of the research and practice implications from: Toegel, G., Anand, N., & Kilduff, M. (2007). Emotion helpers: The role of high positive affectivity and high self-monitoring managers. Personnel Psychology, 60, 337-365.