Anyone who’s ever had the misfortune of working with a moody colleague of for a boss prone to wild swings of emotion can likely attest to the accuracy of a new paper by a pair of academics focusing on the impact of “affect”–emotion–on organizational behaviors.
The paper, Why Does Affect Matter in Organizations, was written by Sigal G. Barsade, associate professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and Donald E. Gibson, associate professor of management at the Dolan School of Business at Fairfield University.
In it, the authors suggest that “Affect permeates organizations,” and contend that over the past 30 years an “affective revolution” has taken place in which academics and managers have come to appreciate that an organizational view that considers the impact of affect offers a perspective previously missing in analysis of the workplace.
The two professors examine three different types of feelings: discrete, short-lived emotions; moods–longer lasting feelings not necessarily connected to a particular cause; and dispositional traits, the personality characteristics defining an individual’s overall approach to life.
All three can be contagious, according to the paper, and “emotional contagion”–the sharing or transferring of emotions from one individual to others–often occurs without conscious knowledge. From a business perspective, such “contagion” can have a significant impact.
For example, the authors cite the case of the positive mood of bank tellers generating a positive emotional contagion among customers, leading to positive customer evaluations of service quality. In a group setting, positive emotional contagion from the leader has been found to have a subsequent positive impact on group coordination and effort.
While the paper cites some cases of conflict in research surrounding the impact of affect, it concludes that organizational researchers are increasingly recognizing the impact emotions have on any situation in which humans interact with one another and their environment, including the workplace. And, it says, “The evidence is overwhelming that experiencing and expressing positive emotions and moods tends to enhance performance at individual, group and organizational levels.”
Ultimately, affect matters to organizations, the two professors conclude, “because employees are not isolated `emotional islands.'” Thus, “an understanding of how these affective experiences and expressions operate and influence organizational outcomes is an essential piece in understanding how work is done and how to do it better.”