What Emotions Are People Feeling At Work… And Why It Matters

How we feel has a massive impact on what we do, which in turn affects the outcomes we get.  We are all driven far more by emotion than most of us like to admit – Daniel Kahneman’s work into how we make decisions has shown this. That’s why we start every Inpulse survey with the question, ‘How do you feel about….?’  Participants are then invited to select two emotions from a range of 9 offered, the list being tailored to fit the issue/event/ activity in question. 

This information provides valuable insight into people’s emotional state and allows tracking of engagement – positive feelings such as committed, empowered, and motivated show engagement while the more negative ones such as apprehensive, demotivated and anxious suggest the opposite. Inpulse has been widely used over the last five years across a variety of sectors: retail, publishing, academia, technology, household goods, manufacturing and finance.  It’s been applied to run pulse checks, full blown opinion surveys, reactions to changes, making Town Halls interactive and to review coaching workshops. 

Therefore, we now have a very useful array of data. Of course, these surveys are from different organisations, designed and carried out for different reasons, each with different populations. Nonetheless it fascinating to add up all the emotions selected in each of these surveys to see what it tells us.  A bit of fun really, but also a fascinating snap shot and insight into how people are feeling about their work and organisations.  

Let’s start with the overall picture. In terms of emotions selected, it’s pretty much level pegging – out of 41 emotions, 21 are positive and 20 are negative.  However, the positive emotions tend to have been selected more frequently than the negatives – some of which were only chosen a handful of times.  Overall then, it seems like good news –  people at work are generally more engaged and positive than not. 

So far, so good. But if they are engaged, why is that?  The top three selected positive emotions may help explain this.  They are enthusiastic (198), motivated (195) and inspired (181).  This suggests that in a lot of cases, leaders are getting their messages about their vision and strategies through – it’s hard to be any of these things if you don’t know where you are heading and how you will get there. The next three positive are empowered (168), confident (152) and valued (145), which also indicates that leaders have been successful in helping many people take responsibility, try out new things and be recognized for successes. 

It’s not all good news, though, as alongside these positives are two high scoring negatives – disconnected on 189 and disappointed on 155. This indicates that there is little room for complacency and that leaders are not being successful in helping everyone feel part of what’s happening in their organization, or getting behind it.  Even where strategy and vision are clear, it seems that a good chunk of people still feel non plussed by it and are yet to see what part they can play and how it will help them.  This is reinforced as we look a little lower down the list at the next negatives. Apprehensive (141) and Anxious (135) indicate that a sizable number of people find themselves in uncertain and unfamiliar circumstances in which they are unlikely to perform at their best, while demotivated (131), uninterested (128), negative (124) and plain bored (117) are all high scores for such destructive emotions and highlight lost opportunities to capture people’s imagination and the discretionary effort that goes with it. 

Before we get too gloomy, though, there is some apparent good news at the other end of the scale, though.  There are low scores for intimidated (12), manipulated (9) and upset (4). This is important as these tend to be negative emotions which are caused by deliberate bad behaviour by leaders. This tells us that relatively few people are experiencing the consequences of such behaviour and that perhaps managing by fear and command and control seems to be on the wane. 

In summary, then, the emotions expressed by people in Inpulse surveys so far suggest movement in the right direction.  They are more positive, and indicate greater understanding, belonging and empowerment while the impact of bad behaviour by bosses is relatively low. Leaders still need to watch their mettle, though and work on making connections, explaining implications and help people see how they can contribute.  We’ll watch the next batch of surveys and keep you posted on developments. 

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