Two psychologists pass each other in the hallway. The first says, “Good morning” and the second thinks, “I wonder what he meant by that?”
What and how we feel on the job is familiar territory to Psychology’s Christopher Warren, who joined the university in 2006. Warren is an expert on the role of emotions in the work place and how they color our job attitudes.
In his 2006 doctoral dissertation at Louisiana’s Tulane University where he served as an adjunct instructor, Warren explored the way in which our feelings affect our work.
“Emotions and personality affect job attitudes,” he said. “That covers everything from job satisfaction to employee turnover. It is possible to tell at age 5 if someone will be happy with their job at age 25. What you bring to the table influences your work environment, but the way you are treated at work may also produce important emotional reactions.”
The classroom workplace faces the same emotional landscape. In his dissertation titled “On the Importance of Balance,” he reviewed how educators react emotionally to their jobs.
“What were their job specific emotions? Were they nervous? I asked teachers how they felt about their jobs,” he said. “Negative emotions varied according to the levels of support they received. My hypothesis, and results, emphasized the importance of balance, where teachers showed higher negative emotions when students received more support than teachers, or when teachers received more support than students.”
Corporate behavior definitely has an influence over job attitudes. When there is a policy of firing 15 percent of the work force every year, as was the case with Enron, the job attitude becomes defensive. “Employees will fall into a prevention stand point,” he explained. “There are two attitudes. There is promotion when you drive forward and there is prevention where you’re worried. A prevention focus makes an office rigid. You take fewer risks. You do what’s expected but you don’t go above and beyond.”
Warren describes having to interact with negative people as “emotional labor.” “Negativity draws something from you,” he said. “I remember participants in my research into emotional dissonance who always ate much more candy from a bowl on my desk after interacting with a negative research assistant. But not only did they eat more candy, their problem-solving abilities also diminished. They would just give up, while those who interacted with a positive assistant would push on.
“If you have to interact with a dissonant personality, it takes something from you,” he added. “This kind of emotional labor can rob you of your self control. Not only might you wind up yelling at a co-worker, but you won’t try as hard at your job either.”
One of the strongest workplace emotions is rage and Warren looks for personality traits that might lead to the expression of rage.
“At first, I thought a conscientious person would be best able to resist the temptation to yell. I was surprised to discover that neuroticism and agreeableness had more to do with rage behind the wheel,” he said. “I surveyed people while they waited in line at the DMV. It’s a great place to collect data. I compared the DMV results with results from psychology students at Tulane University, and the results were slightly different. Narcissism, or an over-inflated ego, was insignificant with adult drivers, but the best predictor of road rage for the students. Younger individuals tend to get upset about somebody else being in their lane, or cutting them off, due to their view that 'this is my highway.'”
What he knows about ideal offices affects the way he deals with his own.
“I can spot the positive and negative personalities right away,” he said. “I notice people’s tendencies and understand there will always be a certain level of negativity in your environment; I just steer clear of those people. I’m on a diet.”