Understanding the emotion of employees: A Retention Tool


Dr. Azra Ishrat
Senior Lecturer in HR
Amity Business School, Amity University
Lucknow Campus


The biggest challenge for any organisation is how to retain its employees. Organisation need to realize that employees are not machines but human beings who basically are emotional. Emotions play an important role in the decision regarding staying or quitting the organisation. In order to retain employees organisations need to create a culture that caters to the emotional needs of the employees along with being emotionally sensitive.


Retention of excellent employees is one of the biggest challenges which most of the organisations are facing today. The general perception is that people leave organisation for more money however, in one astonishing statistical comparison it was found that 89 % of employers think their people leave for more money while, its just 12 % of employees who actually do leave for more money .So what is that, which, makes employees to stay or quit their job. If carefully analyzed, the decision regarding staying or leaving the job is guided by the emotions.

One of the most important reason people leave jobs is because they fail to connect with their bosses as leaders and as people. Also they experience lack of emotional connection, at micro level with their co-workers and their boss, and at macro level with the organisation. Therefore, it is just not the economic needs, but it is psychological and more importantly the emotional needs, like to be appreciated, accepted , believed in, cared, loved, understood, valued, heard and to be forgiven etc., which allure employees in their decision to stay in the job. If these needs are not satisfied it leaves them with a feeling of unhappiness and frustration, which in turn, leads to consequences which begins with absenteeism and ends with attrition.

At the same time, often people are compelled to continue in the organisations they dislike also because of emotion namely fear. They cannot afford to quit their job due to scarcity of the jobs, fear of, unemployment and of losing their identity as their social identity is based on their job (Sims, Fineman and Gabriel, 1993). Fear of losing their identity by losing job plays an important role in their decision to stay in the organisation. In such situation people usually suppress their emotions of disgust and hatred for the organisation and with passage of time they become emotionally indifferent towards the organisation. They hardly take interest in organisation's activities and start distancing with the organisation and as soon as they get opportunity they leave the organisation.

Emotions in Organisation

Although organisations, are essentially made up of living being usually, yet organisation fail to realize that employees are not machines but human beings who basically are emotional. Hebb(1949) once called humans as "the most emotional of animals". Thus it is not surprising that people are emotional at work. They experience anger at co workers and superiors. At the same time people fall in love at workplace, are jealous of their co - workers, afraid of a team bully and happy at success. Infact, workplace is just as emotional as any other places in our lives. We experience both positive as well as negative emotions at workplace for example, elation at gaining promotion, fear of redundancy, excitement over a new project and jealousy over a colleague's success.

The notion that whatever happens in the personal life should not affect professional life is irrelevant because we cannot completely disassociate ourselves with whatever is going on in our personal life. The ups and downs employees face in their personal life occupies their mind in some small or big way, even when they are at work. This creates emotional turmoil in our between personal and professional life, which in turn, leads to individual ineffectiveness and in long run organisational ineffectiveness.

Although emotions play a vital role in organisational life, not simply as a means to an end but as a way to enhance interrelatedness, building mutual understanding and knowing others, however, workplace tends to glorify the idea of rational and unemotional employee discourages emotion in work and generally tries to portray that ideal workplace is one where calm and rationality reign. In organisation emotions are consistently devalued and marginalized and seen as deviation from what is sensible while rationality is privileges as an ideal for effective organisational life. We fail to accept that emotions influence the organisational process and that emotion plays an important role not only in the existence but also in the development of an organisation. If we carefully analyze we would find that most or infact all the performances and behaviours of a rationality driven actor are influenced by emotions. Employee emotions affect primary sources of competitive advantage, such as intellectual capital, customer service, organisational responsiveness, productivity and attraction and retention.

Today, although organisations have started acknowledging the significant role emotions might play, their focus is more towards using emotion to preserve order and rationality. When emotions are incorporated in organisation they are seen as commodities. Thus, the myth that organisation caters to the emotions of all its employees allows free flow of emotions without any restrain or checks and is sensitive towards the emotional needs of its employees, is broken by concepts like Feeling Rules and Emotional Labour. The underlying theme behind these concepts is to manage emotion in such a way that positive outcomes are achieved.

Keeping in today's competitive work environment, management has begun to focus more on the impact of emotion in interpersonal relations on organisation's success. How employees speak and act towards others (e.g. customers and teammates) can affect important outcome variable, (e.g. sales and quality of decision) that in turn, affect the bottom line of the company. As emotional displays are important aspects of interpersonal interaction, many organisations prescribe how emotions should be presented to others through the use of display rules. As a consequence organisations not only define what and where but also when and how much the employees can express a particular emotion. They are less interested in what person is really feeling but are more interested in prescribing what s/he should feel. 

One of the outcomes of feeling rules is emotional labour. Emotional labour involves regulating, inhibiting or rechannelizing one's own feelings and that of others. Emotional labour, is seen as a labour, which treats mind and body as separate entities (Mumby & Putnam, 1992). This mind and body split alienates and fragments individuals. Thus the requirement to show organisationally demanded emotions can be a source of stress leading to burnout. What makes emotional labour damaging is the conflict between the two components that influence the emotions shown at the job. The first component is organisational rules and norms that require specific emotions in specific context s and second are the personality and feelings of the employees.

The employees experience emotional labour more strongly when they are asked to express emotions that contradict with their inner feelings. In such situation employees start experiencing emotional dissonance which drains their energy and hampers their effectiveness. Employees become torn between what they are feeling and what they should feel. It makes employees feel frustrated, irritated and at times trapped in the organisation. The employees also start developing an attitude that if the organisation doesn't cares about my feeling or my well-being why should I care about organisation's well-being. This in turn leads to indifference, dissatisfaction, cribbing, wishing ill for the organisation, and non - commitment towards the organisation.

Whenever, organisation tries to portray that it caters to the psychological needs of the employees, it highlights the concept of emotional intelligence. However, emotional intelligence like emotional labour is about managing emotions in a way, which results in positive outcome in terms of interpersonal relationship or performance. The central point in both emotional intelligence and emotional labour is using emotions to enhance productivity at workplace.

Need for Developing Emotionally Sensitive Culture

What is needed therefore, is that organisation to create a culture which is emotionally sensitive i.e. a culture, where employees are treated as human rather than as machine, where emotions are considered as important as anything and is given due importance, which empathizes and supports them in times of crises or failures and there is genuine concern about the well being of the employees.

Each emotion expressed has an antecedent whether it is personal factor or professional factors. What is needed therefore, is that organisations acknowledge, pay attention and react appropriately to emotions specially the negative ones like fear, anger disgust, apprehension, frustration, cribbing etc. when they are being expressed. Expression of negative emotions is, perhaps, the first sign that, somewhere, something is wrong. If a single person is experiencing such negative emotions then the probability that the problem is with the person but if they are experienced by large number of employees then the problem is with the organisation. However, organisation at times becomes indifferent or express helplessness towards emotions being expressed.

Reaction to the emotions expressed (whether the organisation empathizes or remains indifferent) becomes important because firstly, it governs the interpersonal dynamic in the organisation and various organisational activities. Secondly, it would shape the attitude and behaviour of the employees. If an organisation, while being aware of the emotions being expressed remains indifferent towards them, then it might give rise to feeling of apathy among the employees towards the organisation. This in turn, might also result in emotional distancing, lack of commitment and loyalty towards the organisation on the part of the employees. Employees might develop attitude that "when organisation doesn't care about my emotions then why should I care about it". If organisation empathizes with the emotion that are being expressed it would create a positive attitude among the employees which in turn would lead to loyalty and commitment towards the organisation

Apart from this, organisations must remember that failures are inevitable part of our lives. As employees are human they are likely to make mistakes, fail and fall short at some point of our professional lives. How organisation handles failure would also determine whether employees would stay or leave organisation Often organisations deal with failure so unsympathetically and insensitively, that it demotivates the person as well as other, and leaves them feeling dejected and abandoned.  This feeling of being deserted is experienced all the more, if the employee is very dedicated and loyal to the organisation. Organisation should also realize that most of the mistakes are unintentional and not such that it is would create bring havoc or cannot be rectified. By saying this it is not being proposed that organisation should tolerate or forget mistakes. However, when failure occurs the focus should not be on 'who' had committed the mistake but 'what' had occurred. The effort should be to rectify the mistake rather than to punish the employees.

A culture in which member's consider that there is, increased victimization,  persecution and singling out whenever failure or mistake occurs then there would be more instances of  employees quitting  the organisation. In order to retain people organisation must learn to give emotional support just like a family does. The family doesn't abandon its  members even they commit the gravest mistake, it  scold them, often punish them but along with this it  shows that it cares for them and they would still be treated as they were earlier. The organisation needs to have this approach while handling failures and mistakes.

Each individual has an inner desire to be loved, cared and respected. By occasional, acknowledging employees by taking their names, showering praise for their little achievements and efforts and making them feel valued by taking their views and opinion and giving importance and respect to the feelings of the employees etc. organisation would attain unconditional commitment, support and loyalty of the employees. Along with this providing empathetic, supportive facial expression and vocal cues, positive touch and hugs would enhance the overall well-being of the employees. These simply things if followed by the organisation would encourage and motivate employees in their decision to stay in the organisation.


Thus if organisation wants to retain the employees it should redesign its culture. A culture, which shows, conflict, mistrust, insensitivity towards the emotions, where the value system supports excessive control, punitive steps for failures and mistakes, where there is low preference towards human sentiments and relations, no cordial-cohesive environment to work with lack of recognition etc. cannot win employee's unconditional trust and co-operation. What is needed today, therefore, is that organisation provides a culture which is emotionally sensitive i.e. it caters to the emotional needs of the employees, where failures and mistakes are dealt with emotional maturity and which provides emotional support in times of their crises be it personal or professional. In short, a culture which should leave the employees with a feeling of happiness, contentment, being valued and respected.


1. Hebb. (1946).Cited in Howard M. Weiss and Russell Cropanzano (Eds.) Affective Events Theory: A theoretical discussion of the structure, causes and consequences of experiences at work. Research in Organisational Behaviour, Vol.18: 1-74.

2. Mumby, D. K. and Putnam, L.L. (1992). The politics of emotion: A feminist reading of bounded rationality. Academy of Managemnet Review. Vol.17 (3): 465- 486.

3. Sims, D., Fineman, S., & Gabriel, Y. (1993). Organizing and Organisations: An Introduction. London: Sage Publisher.

Dr. Azra Ishrat
Senior Lecturer in HR
Amity Business School, Amity University
Lucknow Campus

Source: E-mail April 3, 2008


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