Emotions in the Workplace: How Employees Feel at Work

Emotions in the WorkplaceAlmost everything we do is related to emotions, even at work.

Did you laugh or smile at work today? If you did, you showed emotions. Were you bored in your last meeting? Upset or sad about losing a customer? Excited about hitting a goal? All emotions. These are just a few examples of the many emotional moments that occur in the workplace each day.

Understand employee emotions and how they relate to engagement: New Research—Emotions in the Workplace.

To offer insights into the variety and complexity of emotions at work, we conducted a research study to explore emotions in the workplace.

Read below for results about: 

  • The positive and negative emotions employees feel most often at work
  • How emotions differ between managers and individual contributors
  • How emotions relate to employee engagement



Most Common Positive and Negative Emotions

To create awesome emotional cultures, organizations need to understand which emotions are prevalent in the workplace and how they affect employees. 

We asked employees to select up to three positive feelings they feel most often at work from these emotions: calm, comfortable, energetic, enthusiastic, excited, happy, joyful, peaceful, relaxed, and satisfied.

Our results suggest that the top three positive emotions felt by employees at work are as follows, including the percentage of respondents who selected each emotion: 

  • Comfortable (47.8%)
  • Satisfied (37.1%)
  • Enthusiastic (36.6%)

We also asked them to select up to four negative feelings they feel most often at work from these emotions: annoyed, anxious, bored, disinterested, dissatisfied, frustrated, gloomy, miserable, sad, stressed, tired, uncomfortable, unhappy, upset, and worried.

Here's what employees identified as the top three negative emotions felt at work: 

  • Frustrated (56.2%)
  • Stressed (45.1%)
  • Anxious (30.4%)

That’s a lot of emotions! Which do you feel most often at work?


Positive and Negative Emotions by Position Level

Our research pointed to some noticeable differences between the most common emotions felt by individual contributors and managers. Here are the largest differences in positive emotions between individual contributors and managers:

how employees feel1

Managers are more likely to feel energetic, enthusiastic, and happy more often than individual contributors, but managers likely feel comfortable less often. Here are the largest differences in negative emotions between individual contributors and managers:

how employees feel2

Managers are more likely to feel stressed and annoyed than individual contributors, but managers likely feel uncomfortable less often.

Combining both sets of results by position level, we get the following summary:

When compared to individual contributors, managers are more likely to feel (1) energetic, enthusiastic, happy, stressed, and annoyed more often, and (2) comfortable less often.

What do you think about these differences? It could be that managers tend to feel energetic, enthusiastic, and happy more often due to their roles as cheerleaders, motivators, facilitators, coaches, and conflict resolvers.

At the same time, managers often have more responsibilities and encounter more barriers than individual contributors, which could explain a higher frequency of stress and annoyance.


Negative Emotions and Employee Engagement

Do emotions impact employee engagement? Our research shows some clear connections between emotional culture and levels of engagement, and the implications of these findings are serious. Engagement impacts a wide variety of important business outcomes — which makes a solid case for addressing emotions at work.

Burying emotions hurts engagement... but so does being in an emotionally toxic environment. When the people around you are frequently and openly expressing negative emotions, it can have a damaging effect on employee engagement. The chart below shows the relationship between employee engagement and how often others (coworkers, managers, etc.) express negative emotions.

how employees feel3

Engagement decreases as immediate coworkers or managers more frequently express negative emotions, with a large gap between “a few times a month” and “a few times a week.”

Employees whose managers or immediate coworkers express negative emotions on a daily or weekly basis, compared to any less frequent basis, have much lower levels of engagement.

Experiencing negative emotions expressed by others—whether seen, heard, or read—may decrease feelings of overall connection (i.e., engagement). Or it could be that as employees’ engagement decreases, they become more sensitive to, and better or more strongly remember, negative emotions expressed by others.


Bringing It All Together

We’ve shown that emotions are varied. Those emotions can even differ between position levels. And when negative emotions are expressed, they can negatively impact employee engagement.

The first two sets of results are important. Knowing the kinds of emotions employees are most likely to feel (whether positive or negative) can help you navigate those emotions. Knowing is half the battle!

But the third set of results is perhaps most important to consider. To help decrease the expression of negative emotions at work, you need to understand what happened before those emotions boiled over. And if they’re expressed daily or weekly within teams, what kinds of negative emotions are we talking about? Are they “hot” negative emotions like anger or frustration, or “cold” emotions like sadness and apathy? Each type of emotion is unique and requires a unique approach to handling it.

Despite that uniqueness, building a culture of trust and practicing emotional intelligence skills can allow employees to develop a better appreciation for the complexity and variety of emotions. An additional hope is that cultures of trust, and individual skill-building, will allow employees to feel and express more positive emotions in the workplace.



Emotions have an enormous impact on the workplace. To learn more about emotions at work, safe spaces, coping mechanisms, and more, get your copy of our ebook, Emotions in the Workplace.

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