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  • Tamar Balkin

Effective Leaders Know The Secrets To Managing Negative Emotions At Work.

“Shout shout let it all out,

These are the things I can do without.

Come on

I’m talking to you

Come on"


Shout by Tears for Fears (Click here for the song)


 

“She drinks vinegar for breakfast and eats lemons for morning tea.”

Peter Berry

 

What causes negative emotions?

Researchers found that negative emotions are a loss of psychological resources and thus they hinder employees' performance and well-being. Workplace anger can result from frustration, interpersonal conflicts with bosses or co-workers, and unfair treatment. Researchers have found that because we are motivated by a sense of fairness/equity when workplace rewards aren’t distributed fairly, it can lead to envy. High levels of incivility or threat of job loss cause much fear in employees, which left unchecked can escalate to anxiety and depression. When employees experience the exhausting cycle of burnout, they may become cynical and disengaged. This can lead to a decrease in job satisfaction, reduced patience, and disinterest in both the job and the company's mission. Additionally, they may tend to be overly critical of new ideas or initiatives. (click here for my blog on Burnout) Regular readers would know that poor job fit, badly managed organisational change, a clash of values, challenges in one’s personal life, and psychological hazards at work take their toll on psychological well-being and may increase the experience of negative emotions at work.

How do negative emotions manifest at work?

 

“When employees face the uncontrollability of the work situation and are unable to do anything, they will put themselves in a state of anxiety and fatigue, consume a lot of psychological and emotional resources, and it is difficult to carry out extra-role behaviour.”

Yu, S., Wu, N., Liu, S. and Gong,


 

Workplace aggression may be overt, such as yelling or physical aggression, or more subtle, such as micromanaging or passive-aggressive comments. Aggression can also be directed at specific individuals or groups, or it can be generalised hostility. High levels of pessimism tend to increase negative thinking and decrease productivity and morale. Isolation at work can arise in both face-to-face and remote workers. It may lead to a feeling of being the only one who is struggling with a particular issue, or not being valued or not a part of the team. In its extreme form ostracism is very damaging to psychological well-being (click here for my blog on ostracism)


 

“I just got it all wrong, I tried to fix things, but he just got angrier, he wanted me to just listen”.

Coaching client

 

Regular readers would know that a leader's self-awareness, emotional intelligence and all the elements of creating a psychologically safe and healthy workplace will minimise the likelihood of inappropriate emotional expression at work. Researchers have found the following practical steps to be impactful: Set clear expectations for how emotions should be expressed at work. Leaders need to be open about the positive and negative emotional impact of work. Neither type of emotion should be discouraged but should be expressed appropriately. Role modelling and discussing techniques to regulate emotions should be normalised (click here for my blog on emotional regulation). Unacceptable behaviour and emotional expression should be clearly defined and not tolerated. Anticipate and address situations that can cause friction, uncertainty, and general angst. There is a multitude of troublesome internal, and external factors in the work environments of employees like change, mergers, economic stress, downsizing and rapid growth, that can deplete an employee's psychological resources. Engaging in regular open and truthful conversations on an individual, team, and organisational level regarding the emotional and practical effects of these challenging issues - even when information and control are limited - can be extremely beneficial. (Click here for my blog on elephants in the room) Foster socialisation and friendship at work. Regular readers know that one of the psychological benefits of work is social contact beyond the family. Researchers found that genuine workplace friendships reduce the impact of negative workplace events on employees, and even stimulate employees’ work enthusiasm and behaviour. Establishing an inclusive, harmonious, and open culture provides the foundation for the development and maintenance of friendships among employees. Recruiting employees with good EQ and relationship skills will enhance work-based interpersonal relationships. Proactive regular conversations with employees about work and life. Regular dedicated conversations about, well-being, life, job satisfaction, performance and career plans can serve as an early warning system of potential hazards. Moreover, this approach helps to create a solid foundation that can make it easier to address problematic and inappropriate behaviour. Access support: There is often the assumption that the leader should be invincible, however, regular readers would know that the issues that impact employees also impact leaders. Leaders with high self-awareness and emotional intelligence know when they need support and what to access. It is crucial to normalise the need to access internal and external professional support when required. (click here for my blog on oversharing)

Things not to do:

  • Brush aside negative emotions

  • Promise what you can’t deliver

  • Fix what you can’t

  • Condone poor behaviour

  • Rush a feedback conversation

  • Ignore incivility

  • Gossip

  • Convince someone to stay in a role they aren’t suited to (click here for my blog on the impact of poor job fit)

What happens if you feel you have left it too late?

 

“Sometimes everything is wrong”

Everybody Hurts by R.E.M. (Click here for the song)

 

Be prepared to take disciplinary action if necessary. If you have an employee who is regularly displaying negative emotions, it's important to address the issue head-on.

Negative emotions and inappropriate behaviour have a detrimental ripple effect on others thus it is crucial to offer support to all employees.

Final thoughts

 

“It’s been six months since Bob finished his coaching program with you. I watched him yesterday as we prepared for a challenging external meeting. Before we even began to discuss the aims of the meeting, he did some ‘third space thing’ causing us to emotionally reset, clear our heads and enjoy the planning process. Previously, he used to attend these meetings alone, and he would become agitated and frustrated. As a result, I would often receive complaints from clients regarding his yelling and impolite behaviour."

Coaching Client’s boss.


As negative emotions at work can be highly personal and complex, seeking external professional support may be more appropriate and effective.

Please click here if you would like to read my past blogs.


 

References: more available on request Zhang, B., Zhao, L., Liu, X., Bu, Y. and Ren, Y. (2022). The Influence of Employee Emotion Fluctuation on Service Performance: An Experience Sampling Data Analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 13. doi:https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2022.648142. www.psychologytoday.com. (n.d.). 5 Negative Workplace Emotions and Their Effects on Us | Psychology Today Australia. [online] Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/cutting-edge-leadership/201603/5-negative-workplace-emotions-and-their-effects-on-us [Accessed 2 Mar. 2023]. Fisher, C.D. and Ashkanasy, N.M. (2000). The emerging role of emotions in work life: an introduction. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 21(2), pp.123–129. doi:https://doi.org/10.1002/(sici)1099-1379(200003)21:2%3C123::aid-job33%3E3.0.co;2-8. Yu, S., Wu, N., Liu, S. and Gong, X. (2021). Job Insecurity and Employees’ Extra-Role Behavior: Moderated Mediation Model of Negative Emotion and Workplace Friendship. Frontiers in Psychology, 12. doi:https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.631062.

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