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How Employees Deal with Emotions in the Workplace

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- How do employees expect their co-workers to manage their emotions in the workplace? According to new research at the University of Missouri-Columbia, many employees do not want their co-workers to express any type of strong emotion -- positive or negative.

Michael Kramer and Jon Hess, professors of communication, surveyed employees from a variety of different occupations and asked them to describe situations at work where emotions were managed "appropriately" or "inappropriately." According to their research, the professors found that the only "appropriate" way to manage negative emotions at work was for employees to hide or "mask" their emotions. Positive emotions also needed to be expressed in moderation, according to those surveyed.

Employees expect others to hide negative emotions in order to maintain what they call "professionalism." They also expect co-workers to hide positive ones by not showing too much pleasure with promotions or raises because someone else might have missed out. Kramer said he expected this type of "masking" behavior in customer relation occupations but did not expect it as much in the employee-to-employee jobs as revealed in his research.

"We've known for years that customer relations employees are expected to manage their emotions to express positive emotions regardless of the situation," Kramer said. "The results of this study indicate that employees in many occupations live with the same expectations as part of acting professionally with their co-workers and bosses."

The researchers also found that emotion management is not something that is taught at work. Rather, participants learned to manage their emotions by observing others in the workplace to learn what is and is not appropriate.

Kramer and Hess have submitted their emotion management study to a scholarly journal for possible publication later this year.

---University of Missouri-Columbia

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