It is practically a given that while at work, we can not always act in ways that reflect what we are truly feeling. Whether it is with a confused customer, annoying co-worker, or particularly frustrating boss, we often have feelings we need to hide. This effort of hiding our true feelings – called emotional regulation – is often emotionally and physically taxing. This is because we are moving away from what we are feeling and trying to create emotional distance. But new research (Lapalme et al., 2023) is beginning to explore a new avenue of emotional regulation: leaning into and amplifying the positive, rather than trying to hide the negative.
THE RESEARCH STUDIES
Using two different studies, researchers explored both the immediate and long-term benefits of amplifying positive emotions rather than just distancing from negative ones. In their first study, data were collected from 455 healthcare workers, a field notorious for the demand of emotional regulation. In the second study, 73 participants completed multiple surveys over the course of several weeks.
The researchers found that amplifying the positive emotions people naturally felt at work led to decreases in burnout and withdrawal, and led to an increase in employees’ level of engagement at work. The researchers also found that amplifying natural positive emotions had more of an affect on these outcomes than simply feeling positive emotions all the time. In other words, it’s not about being happy all the time; it’s about being authentic and highlighting the good feelings that an employee is already feeling.
Burnout is a real and tangible concern in most organizations. A major contributor to burnout is the distancing form of emotional regulation. To better protect employees against burnout, organizations should do the following:
- Promote amplification by teaching employees how to perform short amplification exercises, especially when they are feeling emotionally and physically depleted.
- Model amplification strategies in leadership. Employees look to leaders for guidance, especially in times of crisis or stress. If leaders are practicing and modeling amplification strategies, not only will they reap the benefits (which will trickle down to employees), employees will feel more secure in practicing the techniques themselves.
- Embrace authenticity; encourage employees to express what they are truly feeling and provide them space to do so. Leaders should understand that amplification is not a cure-all for burnout and that it is still important to support employees who are experiencing negative emotions.
Lapalme, M. L., Rojas-Quiroga, F., Pertuzé, J. A., Espinoza, P., Rojas-Córdova, C., & Ananias, J. F. (2023). Emotion regulation can build resources: How amplifying positive emotions is beneficial for employees and organizations. Journal of Business and Psychology, 38, 539-560.
Image credit: istockphoto/Angelina Melnik