Emotion Regulation of Others and Self

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Publications arising from EROS - Academic

Totterdell, P., Hershcovis, M. S., Niven, K., Reich, T. C., & Stride, C. (2012). Can employees be emotionally drained by witnessing unpleasant interactions between co-workers? A diary study of induced emotion regulation. Work & Stress, 26, 112-129.


The aim of this study was to investigate whether employees experience emotional drain when they witness unpleasant interactions between coworkers. This was tested in a sample of staff in a UK hospital department, which included nurses, doctors, specialists and administrative staff. The study used a diary method in which participants recorded their reactions to over 1000 interpersonal interactions between coworkers across 15 work days. Multilevel analyses indicated that staff felt significantly more emotionally drained after witnessing unpleasant interactions compared to pleasant ones. This effect was mediated both by what the staff felt in response to what they witnessed and by the extent to which they controlled their feelings. Staff felt more emotionally drained when they took the perspective of the target to a greater extent and when they witnessed interactions directly (first-hand) rather than indirectly (hearsay). Witnesses appear to be vulnerable to emotional depletion because they experience an affective reaction and self-regulate their own emotional response to what they have seen or heard. This third-party effect on the witnesses of unpleasant interactions has the potential not only to have a negative effect on the individual but to pervade the organisation.

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