Quantifying Your Company’s Emotional Culture

Managers tend to view emotions as something “soft” that can’t really be measured.  But you can — and should — track emotions quantitatively, the same way you’d track employees’ other attitudes and behaviors: through surveys. There’s a key difference in approach, however.

In a survey we’ve used in many organizational settings, people don’t tell us how they feel. Rather, employees or outside raters observe the emotional culture around them — that is, the norms, values, artifacts, and assumptions governing which feelings people can have and should express at work. This helps us get a birds-eye view of what’s happening with the group as a whole. We ask: “To what degree do other people in this organization (or division or unit) display the following emotions?” The options include enthusiasm, caring, compassion, frustration, anxiety, and energy, to name a few. We then ask which emotions people should or shouldn’t express in their organization.

if course, employee surveys aren’t the only way to track emotional culture. We have used interviews and on-site observations as well. A culture interview usually starts with questions about the job (“What is the biggest challenge of working at your company?”), followed by questions about what it takes for employees to do well in the organization and what can derail them (a good “shortcut” for understanding culture), and then more-direct questions about culture (“What words would you use to describe the culture or personality of your unit?”). Because it’s important to capture both highly salient and “hidden” aspects of emotional culture, we also look for spontaneous, nonverbal cues such as facial expressions, posture, gestures, and vocal tone. We’ve even analyzed office décor, rituals, and routines. In our research and practice, such indicators have correlated closely with the survey data, which helps confirm accuracy all around.

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First published on Harvard Business Review by Sigal Barsade & Olivia Q. O’Neill


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