Working with upbeat people can make the workplace feel fun and supportive. The key to workplace success may lie in expressing a positive attitude.
In a recent study, researchers looked closely at workplace interactions between employees and peers and employees and superiors.
The researchers found that, for the most part, positive attitudes helped employees reach workplace goals with peers and especially with superiors.
Elena Wong, PhD, from the Institute of Work and Organizational Psychology at the Université de Neuchâtel, led a research project that studied how expressing positivity in the workplace could help workers reach certain goals.
“Emotional expression provides information about one’s goals, motivation and intentions,” said the study authors.
According to the authors, expressing emotions is a form of social influence that can sway another person’s attitudes, emotions, thoughts and behaviors.
The types of emotions a person expresses in the workplace can be contagious to the other workers. Positive mood can prompt others to be helpful and supportive resulting in high-quality teamwork.
“Expressing positive emotions could be a strategic tool for improving goal attainment during social interactions at work. … However, expressing emotions one does not feel entails the risk of being perceived as inauthentic [seen as fake],” said the study authors.
For the study, the researchers watched 113 employees, between the ages of 18 and 66, in different types of work environments.
Each participant was asked to keep a seven-day work diary and to specifically record every social interaction at work that lasted for 10 minutes or longer. Social interactions with clients of any sort were not to be included.
For each interaction, the participants were asked to record positive and/or negative emotions, such as interest, joy, pride, anger, disappointment and shame. The intensity of each emotion was also to be recorded. On a scale from one to five, the participants were asked to answer the following question after each interaction: “Have you attained your objective(s) in this interaction?”
The researchers studied a total of 494 workplace interactions. The results showed that expressing positive emotions helped employees to reach goals when interacting with a colleague when compared to expressing a negative emotion.
When interacting with a superior present, the expression of positive emotions also helped employees achieve workplace goals, compared to expressing negative emotions.
The researchers found a difference between interactions when a superior was present or absent. When a superior was present, showing positive emotions doubled the chances of an employee reaching a goal, compared to showing positive emotions when only peers were present.
“All in all, in terms of achieving one’s goals, it seems to pay off to express positive emotions when interacting with superiors, and to even amplify positive emotions that are not strongly felt,” said the study authors.
One major limitation to this study, noted by the authors, was that all of the workplace interactions were self-reported. Since the researchers did not see the interactions, the reports were based on the employees' perspectives of the interactions, which were naturally biased.
The study authors concluded that authentic displays of positive emotions helped employees reach workplace goals, and putting an extra positive spin on emotions really only helped when interacting with superiors.
This study was published in May in Frontiers In Emotional Science.
The Swiss National Science Foundation, the National Center of Competence in Research Affective Sciences, the University of Neuchâtel helped support funding for this study. No conflicts of interest were declared.