Strategic Communication  

It’s About How Employees Feel

By Rita Linjuan Men

Offering employees the information they need and keeping them informed and updated is only one of the basic goals of internal communication. A more important purpose of internal communication is to establish employees’ deeper-level emotional connection with the organization. More and more companies today are striving to develop an emotional culture which emphasizes how employees feel, such as experiencing joy, fun, happiness, and compassionate love at work, compared with the traditional cognitive culture that sets the tone for how employees think and behave at work, such as a customer-focused, innovative, and competitive culture (Barsade and O’Neill 2016). However, there has been a lack of empirical evidence on whether emotional culture truly matters for an organization’s success.

To address this research problem, I designed a survey study which examines the influence of organizational emotional culture on employee attitudes. Specifically, it incorporates four most fundamental types of organizational emotional culture, namely, cultures of joy, love, fear, and sadness, and links the emotional culture to the quality of employee-organization relationships.

Through an online survey of 506 employees randomly selected from a variety of organizations across 18 industries in the United States, the results showed that the organizations’ emotional cultures of love and joy positively influence employee-organization relationships whereas cultures of fear and sadness cast negative effects.

In particular, the organization’s emotional culture characterized by joy, happiness, excitement, and compassionate love, affection, and warmth, can meet employees’ psychological need for mutual respect, care, connection, and reliance on one another in the organization. Such culture also contributes to employees’ trust, satisfaction, feeling of mutual control, and commitment toward the organization. However, when the organization’s emotional culture and atmosphere is downhearted, discouraged, and sad, employees are less likely to develop quality relationships with the organization. When the organization’s emotional culture is fearful, nervous, and scared, employees tend to feel disconnected with the organization and co-workers and their psychological need for relatedness is less likely to be met.

The study also found that when employees’ need for mutual respect, care, connections, and reliance on one another is satisfied in the organization, they tend to trust the organization more, be more satisfied with, and committed to the organization, and feel the balance of power in the relationship with the organization. Thus, employees’ psychological need satisfaction for relatedness was found to be a critical mediator for the negative effect of emotional culture of fear on employee-organization relationships and the positive effects of emotional cultures of joy and love on employee-organization relationships.

What do these findings mean for internal communication managers and organizational leaders?

Leaders are expected to influence how employees think and act on a daily basis. However, many neglected the relevance of understanding and actively managing how employees feel or express their emotions at work. Findings of this study suggest that managers at different levels in the organization should take the initiative to consciously shape positive organizational emotional cultures such as joy and compassionate love that promote favorable relational outcomes and avoid the sadness or fear climate that hinders relationship building with employees. Leadership communication plays a critical role in creating the desired emotional culture. For instance, supervisors consistently show up at work looking happy promotes a culture of joy. A fun and playful spirit from the top could spread over the organization. Likewise, little acts of kindness and support and caring and tender tone in communication from leaders helps breed a culture of compassionate love. Leaders punishing every misstep of employees would lead to a culture of fear.

Internal communication managers should be the driving force for creating a benign organizational emotional culture and satisfying employees’ psychological needs for relatedness to foster positive employee-organization relationships. Communication managers can help top management identify the desired emotional culture that is congruent with the organization’s mission and purposes and operationalize and reinforce the culture creation process. For instance, office décors such as posting pictures of employees laughing at social events conveys a culture of joy. Offsite social events after work could strengthen employees’ connections with one another. Explicit use of the words of “care” “love” and “family” in communication messages such as new employee orientation materials instills the value of compassionate love. Encouraging employees to voice their opinions, empowering them to make decisions, and not punishing for every mistake could impede a culture of fear. Identifying the reasons of employee sadness, addressing them timely, and promoting positivity and optimism could suppress the culture of sadness.

Overall, to create a desired emotional culture, it requires the collaborative efforts from organizational leaders at all levels, communication, and human resources managers. Top management should drive the process, set examples, model the positive emotions, and reward those who are doing it right. Communication and human resources managers should design and implement systematic communication strategies and programs to reinforce the manifestation of the desired emotional culture.

This post originally appeared on the Institute for Public Relations Blog.

Rita Linjuan Men is an associate professor of public relations at the University of Florida and the chief research editor for the Institute for Public Relations’ Organizational Communication Research Center


Posted: November 29, 2017
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