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SA Journal of Industrial Psychology

On-line version ISSN 2071-0763
Print version ISSN 0258-5200

SA j. ind. Psychol. vol.39 n.1 Johannesburg Jan. 2013




Emotion episodes of Afrikaans-speaking employees in the workplace



Cara S. Jonker; Althea Van der Merwe

Workwell Research Unit, Economic and Management Sciences, North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus, South Africa





ORIENTATION: Emotions must be investigated within the natural contexts in which they occur. It therefore becomes crucial to study episodes in the workplace.
RESEARCH PURPOSE: The objective of this study was to determine the positive and negative emotion episodes and frequencies of working Afrikaans-speaking adults.
MOTIVATION FOR THE STUDY: To date, no study has been conducted to determine emotion episodes amongst White Afrikaans-speaking working adults in South Africa. Gooty, Connelly, Griffith and Gupta also argue for research on emotions in the natural settings in which they occur - the workplace.
RESEARCH DESIGN, APPROACH AND METHOD: A survey design with an availability sample was used. The participants (N = 179) consisted of White Afrikaans-speaking working adults. The Episode Grid was administered to capture the emotion episodes.
MAIN FINDINGS: The main emotion episodes reported on with positive content included goal achievement, receiving recognition and personal incidents. Emotion episodes with negative content included categories such as behaviour of work colleagues, acts of boss/superior/management and task requirements.
PRACTICAL AND/OR MANAGERIAL IMPLICATIONS: The findings are useful for managers who want to enhance the emotional quality of the work-life of employees. Changes could be made, for example, to practices of giving recognition within work environments and the clarification of task requirements. The knowledge on emotion episodes could be very useful in planning interventions.
CONTRIBUTION AND/OR VALUE-ADDING: The findings and results of this study provided insight into emotion episodes as events in the workplace can cause positive and negative workplace experiences. This information should be taken into consideration with regard to wellness and emotion measurement efforts.




Individuals bring all of themselves to work, including their traits, moods and emotions. Emotions are part of the lives of all employees and organisational researchers have certainly recognised this (Bunk & Magley, 2013). Miner, Glomb and Hulin (2005) state that emotions at work are an important component of job attitudes and an important predictor of organisational behaviour. Emotion experiences or episodes at work have an impact on job performance, decision-making, creativity, turnover, teamwork, negotiations and leadership (Gibson, 2006; Hill, 1992).

Emotion episodes at work (for example, feelings of frustration with non-performing colleagues and anger about irate customers and unsympathetic managers) are all contributing factors that cause emotion in the workplace. These emotion episodes have an influence on how employees are feeling both physically and emotionally (Dasborough, 2006; Gibson, 2006; Lord & Kanfer, 2002). The features of an emotion episode are that:

1. They are coloured by a positive or negative feeling.

2. They are normally triggered by an interaction involving work and identity.

3. They have a beginning marked by the triggering of a feeling and end with a dissipation of that feeling.

4. They have the potential to recur more than once. (Morgen, Ludlow, O'Leary & Clarke, 2010)

Researchers increasingly focus their attention; therefore, on emotion research in work settings (Bouckengooghe, Raja & Butt, 2013; Gorgens-Ekermans & Brand, 2012; Sacco, 2010). However, there is a lack in research studies that have examined in detail events at work that have an affective content. Bunk and Magley (2013) add to this argument and state that the frequency and valance (positivity and negativity) of emotion events at work need investigation. Morgen et al. (2010) point to this importance of investigating positive and negative events or episodes as dimensions of affective events in the workplace. The investigation of emotion episodes as perceived by employees will provide a more balanced and comprehensive picture than an investigation of a single emotion state (Bunk & Magley, 2013).

The importance of research in the field of emotions can also be seen in the projects of The National Centre of Competence in Research, Affective Sciences (NCCR Affective Sciences) in Switzerland ( The NCCR Affective Sciences is one of the first research centres worldwide dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of emotions and their effects on human behaviour and society. One of their projects entails the investigation of emotion concepts across cultural groups of which South Africa forms part. Although different cultural groups form part of this study, the focus of this article will be to report on emotion episodes of Afrikaans-speaking working adults.

Little or no data on the context of emotion episodes amongst the White Afrikaans-speaking working adult group in South Africa exists. Although South Africa has eleven official languages, Afrikaans and English are still common languages in the industrial workplace. This stems from the apartheid years when these two languages were legislated as the two official language groups (Makhuba, 2005). Today, Afrikaans is the language that is spoken the second most in the majority of provinces in South Africa ( and the language group that is spoken the third most in South Africa overall. According to the findings of Census 2011, Afrikaans is also the language group that showed the most growth in percentage of language speakers (Census, 2011). Due to possible dialects in Afrikaans and the exploratory nature of the research, this study only focused on the White Afrikaans-speaking group.

Problem statement

Background to the study

Research regarding emotions at work include topics (but is not exclusive to) such as happiness (Ashkanasy, 2011), work-life balance (Westman, Brough & Kalliath, 2009) and well-being (Chi & Liang, 2013). However, Gooty, Gavin and Ashkanasy (2009) called for emotion researchers to investigate emotions within the natural contexts in which they occur - making an investigation into the emotion episodes in the workplace an important research topic. In addressing this issue, the Affective Events Theory of Weiss and Cropanzano (1996) can be applied.

The Affective Events Theory (AET) of Weiss and Cropanzano (1996) began to reshape the domain of organisation behaviour with the recognition of the emotion content attached to it. Miner et al. (2005) argue that the AET is one possible way of an organising framework for incorporating affect in the study of organisational behaviour. Little attention is paid to emotion episodes at work and how employees experience these events. The focus of investigating emotion episodes at work is unique to the AET. These events can range from minor events (receiving praise from a co-worker) to more extreme (being passed over for a promotion).

Trends from the research literature

According to the affective events theory (AET) (Weiss & Cropanzano, 1996), the workplace is an environment in which certain conditions and happenings are experienced more positively or negatively by employees. Such experiences are referred to as 'affective events'. Belschak and Den Hartog (2009) mention an example of an event or emotion episode namely, performance feedback. These events trigger positive or negative emotions that influence behaviour and motivation at work (see Figure 1). Michel and Clark (2009) investigated the AET and conclude that, according to the AET, affect can be classified into positive affect (PA) and negative affect (NA). Positive affect is classified as a general tendency to be energetic, excited and joyful, whilst NA is characterised as a general tendency to be anxious, afraid and angry. Frijda's 1987 emotion theory states that affect is a subjective feeling state with a positive or negative hedonic tone.



Positive affect and negative affect are different but correlated dimensions. Sacco (2010) states that all human experiences (therefore also emotion episodes at work) can be derived as a combination of these to independent dimensions. The valence and arousal model of emotion (circumplex model) has a long history in affective psychology. Sacco (2010) states that although different dimensions of emotion have been reported, the circumplex model of emotion allows for a systematic arrangement of emotion experiences (see Figure 2).



Only a few studies have attempted to test components of the AET. Fisher (2000) used emotion terms generated by students to test their relevance to the workplace. The end result was a list with 16 emotion terms - eight positive terms and eight negative terms. The positive terms formed one factor and after investigation the negative terms formed one factor. Fisher (2002) states that positive and negative experiences operate separately in the brain; they operate largely independently and are activated by different stimuli.

The potential value-add of this study

The emotion episodes that employees experience must be investigated. Information on the emotion episodes in a specific cultural group can be used to develop emotion measurements, to plan specific interventions in the organisation and to manage those events specifically that have an affective content.

Objective of the study

The objective of this study was to determine different categories of emotion episodes in a specific cultural group. The research question formulated for this study was: 'What are the different categories of emotion episodes reported in the Afrikaans-speaking working adult language group in South Africa?'.

What will follow?

Subsequently, an overview of the investigation of emotion episodes by means of the Affective Events Theory will be presented, followed by references to emotion episodes research. This will be followed by the research method, findings and the discussion of the categories of emotion episodes that Afrikaans-speaking employees experience.

Overview of the literature

Regarding affective psychology, the ground-breaking work conducted in the 1980s and early 1990s on emotional labour (Hochschild, 1983) and emotional intelligence (Salovey & Mayer, 1990) indicates that studies on emotions in organisations became an important research topic. Although largely neglected for several decades, research investigating emotion in organisations has increased in organisational psychology (Bouckenooghe et al., 2013). National (Cilliers, 2012; Olckers, Buys & Grobler, 2010; Jonker, Van der Merwe, Fontaine & Mering, 2011; Koortzen & Oosthuizen, 2012) and international (Fisher, Minbashian, Beckmann & Wood, 2012; Lindenbaum & Jordan, 2012; Michel & Clark, 2009) publications since then (to name a few) on this subject have resulted in an understanding of the role of emotion constructs in organisational behaviour being available.

Recently, Gooty et al. (2009) called for emotion researchers to investigate emotions within the natural contexts in which they occur - making an investigation into the emotion episodes in the workplace context an important research topic. More specifically, Morgen et al., (2010) also argue for an investigation of positive and negative episodes as dimensions of affective episodes in the workplace. Bunk and Magley (2013) state that the frequency and valence (positivity and negativity) of emotion episodes at work need investigation. Emotion events and emotion episodes are interchangeable terms to be used, but for the purposes of reporting the data, emotion episodes will be used.

The AET is one possible way of an organising framework for incorporating affect in the study of organisational behaviour. Little attention is paid to events at work and how employees experience these events. The focus of emotion episodes at work is unique to the AET. These events can range from minor events (receiving praise from a co-worker) to more extreme (being passed over for a promotion). These events lead to positive and negative emotions with a pleasant or unpleasant hedonic tone (Bunk & Magley, 2013).

Glaso, Vlie Holmdal and Einarsen (2011) conclude that this theory indicates what happens between work events and subsequent employee attitudes and behaviour by focusing on the role of personality and emotion. The theory provides a comprehensive account of the antecedents and consequences of the structure of emotion episodes at work (see Figure 1). The AET argues that employees' attitudes towards the environment follow a cognitive as well as an affective route. The affective route determines the occurrence of positive or negative work events.

This is in line with the basic emotion theory of Frijda (1988) that concludes that events that satisfy goals have a positive content and events that threaten the individual can lead to a negative experience. Positive affect and negative affect are different but correlated dimensions. Positive affect (PA) is classified as a general tendency to be energetic, excited and joyful, whilst negative affect (NA) is characterised as a general tendency to be anxious, afraid and angry. Affect refers to longer lasting positive or negative emotion experiences and is classified as a state affect (mood) and trait or dispositional affect (Gooty et al., 2010). The valence (positive and negative) of the emotional response is tied whether the encounter is likely harmful or not to the individual (Gooty et al., 2010).

Sacco (2010) states that all human experiences (therefore also emotion episodes at work) can be derived as a combination of these to independent dimensions. The valence and arousal model of emotion (circumplex model) has a long history in affective psychology (see Russell, 1980). Sacco (2010) further states that although different dimensions of emotion have been reported, the circumplex model of emotion allows for a systematic arrangement of emotion experiences and a shared view of pleasant and unpleasantness (see Figure 2). Meeusen, Van Dam, Van Zundert and Knape (2010) therefore classify the emotion episodes as positive and negative events in their research. According to the circumplex model, the essence of the AET in providing a framework of events to be classified in positive and negative events, and an investigation of how studies in the past were conducted (Meeusen, et al., 2010), the present study classified emotion experiences as positive and negative emotion episodes.

Meeusen et al. (2010) states that emotions are triggered by actual events in the workplace, and should; therefore, be more readily recalled than vague and diffuse moods whilst at work. The emotion process begins with an event, which is evaluated by importance and relevance to well-being. This explains why the same event can trigger different emotions in different people. Lam and Cheng (2012) state that emotion episodes shape the intensity of the person's subjective emotion reaction. They point out that work features can shape regular work events in the workplace. For example, a stable work environment can influence affective events, which then determine affective states and work attitudes.

According to Miner et al. (2005), the theory on emotions at work is an important component of job attitude and an important predictor of organisational behaviours. Li, Ahlstrom and Ashkanasy (2010) conclude from the AET that it assumes continuing recurrence of emotion episodes and that this type of research is also consistent with a narrative approach. The Critical Incident Technique (CIT) was chosen to be used in the investigation (this will be explained in more detail in the methodology section). Subsequently, some examples of the application of the AET and consequent emotion episodes will be presented.

In 1998, Basch and Fisher investigated the causes of workplace emotions of employees of an Australian hotel, and focused on the emotion events in the workplace. Basch and Fisher (1998) investigated specific events within an employee's day-to-day set of activities and sought to understand which of these events led to certain emotional reactions. Workers were presented with ten emotions and asked to describe a work event that caused them to experience each of the given emotions. They divided the positive emotion events and the negative emotion events and named the types of events experienced. In the first categories, fourteen job events with positive emotion episodes were reported with examples such as acts of work colleagues, acts of management, goal achievement, receiving recognition, acts of customers, involvement in challenging tasks and interacting with customers (Basch & Fisher, 1998).

In the second set of categories, thirteen job events with negative emotions episodes were reported, with examples such as personal problems, workload, physical situation, external environment, company policies, lack of influence and control, and making mistakes. With regard to experiencing negative emotions, workers were more likely to cite events related to dealing with people than events related to dealing with things (Basch & Fisher, 2000).

In the late 1950s, Herzberg, Mausner and Snyderman (1959) asked respondents to tell them about a time that they felt especially good or bad about their job. The events were subsequently sorted into 16 categories. Some of these categories included episodes where respondents felt exceptionally good about their jobs, for example achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility, and advancement or growth. Other categories included episodes where people felt particularly bad about their job, such as problems with supervisors, company policy, compensation and working conditions. In both mentioned studies, one might expect that different kinds of events would cause different emotions whilst working; therefore, Izard (1991) state that research on emotion are quite clear that different types of events cause different emotions. Although the AET is unique in its explanation that events at work determine emotion, it does not provide examples of such events.

Haag (2005) acknowledges that the amount of interaction workers have with other people at work seems to be a strong determining factor in the extent to which that workers experience negative or positive emotions related to their job. That is why Weiss and Cropanzano (1996) say that when events happen to people in work settings, people often react emotionally to these events. The emotions experienced during an emotion episode are related and can; therefore, be correlated with factors such as job satisfaction, organisational commitment and intention to quit (Basch & Fisher, 1998). By saying this, Basch and Fisher (1998) provide an example: an enriched job might more often lead to discrete events involving feedback, task accomplishment and optimal challenge, which may then lead to positive emotions such as pride, happiness and enthusiasm. In the study conducted by Basch and Fisher in 1998, the question was asked: 'What job events or situations cause employees to experience specific emotions while at work?' For this reason, one has to understand the concept of 'emotion episodes', because emotion is involved in such episodes.

In conclusion, the investigation of emotion episodes as perceived by employees will provide a more balanced and comprehensive picture than an investigation of a single emotion state (Bunk & Magley, 2013). Wegge, Van Dick, Fisher, West and Dawson (2006) state that there is a lack in research studies that have examined in detail which features at work have an affective content. The AET does not specify which events have positively or negatively perceived content. Scherer (2009) argues that emotion episodes as a whole and the components are often under-researched. Kafetsios and Zampetakis (2008) state that work affect is an important aspect of work experiences. Kahnemann, Kreuger, Schkade, Schwartz and Stone (2004) argue that the investigation of episodes within the contexts in which they occur has a greater claim to validity and is less subject to bias than the data from the more traditional questionnaire or open-ended interview.


Research design

Research approach

A mixed-method approach was utilised in this study. A cross-sectional field survey design was used to gather information on the emotion episodes. A qualitative approach was utilised for the coding and categorisation of written emotion episodes. A quantitative approach was used to assess the nature and frequency of emotion episodes.

Research method


This study made use of an availability sample of (N = 179) of White Afrikaans-speaking working adults between 18 years and 70 years. The minimum educational level for inclusion was Grade 12. The participants' first language was Afrikaans. The majority of participants who made themselves available as part of the study population were from the Eastern Cape, Free State and North West Provinces of South Africa. A wide variety of occupations was covered in the study and each of the participants participated on an anonymous basis.

In total, 179 White Afrikaans-speaking working adults participated in this study. The participants completed a translated version (Afrikaans) of the Emotion Episode Questionnaire. The ethnicity of the group was White participants. In terms of gender, the women outnumbered the men by two to one [women: 73% (n = 130) and men: 27% (n = 49)]. Twenty percent (20%) of the group were between the ages of 18 and 29 years, whilst 80% were 30 years of age and older. The largest part of the participants was from the Eastern Cape Province (81%). The majority (45%) of the participants had a Grade 12 education level, whilst 55% of the participants had other tertiary levels of education (ranging between a one-year diploma and post-graduate qualifications). The wide variety of occupations that was covered in this study included teachers, police officers, clerks, financial advisors, engineers, marketing advisors, doctors, bookkeepers, hairdressers, accountants, panel beaters, psychologists, bankers, nurses and estate agents.

Measurement instrument

The Episode Grid was developed as part of an Emotion Research Project at Ghent University in Belgium as part of an initiative of the International Society for Cross-Cultural Research on Affect that falls under the Swiss Affect Sciences Centre. Participants were asked to reflect on the last two most intense emotion episodes experienced at work. Questions in the Episode Grid are formulated in such a way as to capture and aid the emotion episode as vividly as possible. Example questions include: 'Please describe the emotional episode: What happened?; Who was involved?; How did the situation begin?; How did it evolve? and How did it end?'.

Research procedure

The study was approved by an ethics committee from a tertiary education institution in South Africa. Participation was voluntary and confidentiality and anonymity were ensured. Because of the sensitiveness that may occur when describing emotion episodes, the study was thoroughly explained to each participant prior to data collection. A letter explaining the objective of the study was also distributed to each participant with details of wellness centres attached, if needed. Completed questionnaires were gathered in person by the researchers and placed in a sealed box.

Data analysis

The incident classification system suggested by Bitner, Booms and Tetreault (1990) was adopted to develop a preliminary classification scheme. The episodes were sorted and reclassified until a meaningful set of categories were derived from the data. Data from the respondents were sorted into categories by an industrial psychology researcher and was reviewed by another psychologist. These categories were given to another industrial psychologist with a good track record of qualitative methods to classify these categories as a reliability or credibility check according to the category scheme. An inter-coder reliability measure suggested by Miles and Huberman (1994), the number of agreements or total number of agreements plus disagreements, was used to calculate the agreement between the two coders and the researchers.



Table 1 presents the results of the categories of emotion episodes for positive and negative emotion episodes. Nine categories emerged for positive emotion episodes, with a total of 84 emotion episodes reported. Negative emotion episodes were reported 267 times within 19 different categories of emotion episodes. Examples of reported episodes are reported in Box 1 and Box 2. Only eight categories were categorised differently than the original coders and; therefore, a reliability or credibility overlap of 97% was achieved, which is far more than the recommended 70% overlap suggested by Miles and Huberman (1994).



In Table 1, 179 respondents reported 84 satisfying and 267 negative emotion episodes that took place at work. Seven (7) out of the 358 emotion episodes were unclassifiable. Only eight categories were not categorised by the independent coders and an overlap of more than 90% was achieved.

Each participant reported two (2) emotion episodes. Using the essence of the AET as described in the literature study, these episodes were classified on positive and negative content. Nine categories of positive emotion episodes emerged (Table 1 and Box 1) and nineteen categories of negatively experienced emotion episodes emerged (Figure 2 and Box 2). In terms of the categories of positively and negatively experienced episodes, negatively experienced emotion episodes outnumbered positive emotion episodes by three to one. The numbers in brackets in Table 1 are the frequency of co-occurring reported emotion episodes.

Categories of emotion episodes experienced with a positive content

The highest category of positive emotion episodes experienced was Goal achievement, with 31 emotion episodes reported. Goal achievement describes situations where job-related targets or goals are successfully arrived at and are acknowledged with pride; therefore, when targets or goals are reached by people, very positive emotions will surround the work situation as well as any social event. The second highest reported episode in the positive category was receiving recognition, with 20 emotion episodes at work. This category refers to appraised behaviour towards employees or colleagues for goals achieved or helping behaviour. The third highest category reported was personal incidents, with 10 emotion episodes. This reflects one's own positive experiences that were of a personal nature and not work related, although the emotion of the episodes was carried over to the work situation.

Behaviour of work colleagues is behaviour towards oneself, an employee, colleagues or management. Task recognition is appraised behaviour towards an employee, colleagues or management for a job well done. Acts of boss or superior or management is recognition through acts or gestures from the boss or superior or management indicating approval and was reported four times. Emotion involvement was reported three times and involves recognition of emotions of pride, satisfaction, and ownership of the employee by management. Workplace policy, involves procedures instituted to provide positive outcomes for employees, and Subordinate behaviour are acts of defiance and a subversive nature undermining the authority of management and enhances the employee's ego; these were only mentioned once and were reported the least number of times.

Examples of the reported emotion episodes with a positive content are reported in Box 1. Five examples are reported per emotion episode. In cases where fewer than five episodes were reported, all the episodes are reported.

Categories of emotion episodes experienced with a negative content

In the categories of negative emotion episodes (Table 1b), 58 emotion episodes were reported as Behaviour of work colleagues and those are behaviour towards the employee or a colleague of a less satisfying manner; most of these emotion episodes were relationship orientated. The participants reported 47 episodes of acts of boss or superior or management and those involved acts showing disregard for employee emotions and feelings. Task requirement, where an employee is required to perform undesirable tasks, was reported 33 times. These categories suggest less satisfying behaviour towards oneself or others by work colleagues, managers, supervisors and customers.



Personal incidents was mentioned 26 times and refers to less satisfying personal experiences that were of a personal nature and not work related, although the emotion of the episodes was carried over to the work situation. Subordinate behaviour is acts of defiance and a subversive nature undermining the employee and enhances management's power, and was reported 17 times. Emotional involvement is classified as a category where the employee becomes emotionally involved. 'Work mistakes' is feelings of apprehension, guilt and anxiety as a result of making a mistake at work, and it was reported 13 times. Customer behaviour refers to disrespectful and intimidating customer behaviour.

Workplace policy involves disagreement with management's rules and policy that impacts negatively on the employee. Workload involves overload of work for unrelated pay or too much work for the staff complement. Lack of control involves no set structure being in place, so that limitations and boundaries are undefined. Involved in disciplinary action involves resentment towards management for action taken against employees. All four categories were reported eight times in the present study. Workplace strikes is disruptive staff action, reported four times. Three episodes of lack of goal achievements were reported and it involves non-achievement of set goals resulting in employer action. Two emotion episodes were experienced that involve external circumstances impacting on the job and are categorised as external environment. Physical well-being emotion episodes were also reported twice and those are injuries caused by lack of adequate equipment or protection.

The next three categories were reported by each participant only once. Those are lack of receiving recognition, which involves apathy of management towards goals achieved, wellness of colleagues, which involves fear for co-workers' safety and emotional well-being, and unfairness in the workplace, which involves the inconsistent application of rules and regulations.

Examples of the reported emotion episodes with a negative content are reported in Table 3. Five examples are reported per emotion episode. In cases where fewer than five episodes were reported, all the episodes are reported.



Categories of emotion episodes with a positive content

In total, 358 emotion episodes were reported, of which 84 were positive emotion episodes mentioned by the participants. Goal achievement, receiving recognition and personal incidents were reported as the most positive emotion episodes at work. Workplace policy and sub-ordinal behaviour were reported as the positive emotion episodes with the lowest frequency that White Afrikaans-speaking working adults experienced at work.

Goal achievement describes situations where job-related targets or goals were met (Basch & Fisher, 1998), and recognition gained for that achievement, producing abundant and very satisfying emotions that result in self-actualisation and satisfaction. Goal achievement refers to the purposes or reasons an individual pursues an achievement task, most often operationalised in terms of academic learning tasks, although they can be applied to other achievement contexts such as athletic or business settings (Pintrich & Schunk, 1996).

Basch and Fisher (1998) state that receiving recognition refers to satisfying feedback from managers, supervisors and work colleagues on meeting targets or performing a job to a high standard, or receiving a 'pat on the back' for good performance or helpful behaviour. When receiving recognition at work, people feel more accepted and respected by colleagues; and accordingly recognition and reward are accompanied on a social level with social elevation when interacting with colleagues. Half (1994) mentions that an amount of recognition is relative to job satisfaction. Bialopotocki (2007) conceptualises recognition as an event that occurs when employees perceive that they are being praised for a job well done. According to Blasé and Kirby (1992), receiving recognition leads to increased motivation, increased loyalty, and increased production to achieve expectations of one's boss and increased use of positive discipline strategies.

Personal incidents reflect an individual's reaction towards his or her work or colleagues on satisfying emotional episodes that occur in his or her life. Maslow states clearly that employment allows people to become self-actualised (Maslow & Lowery, 1998); therefore, it is the hierarchy of needs for the individual in a workplace that counts. Positive emotion episodes at work have a direct satisfying influence on an individual's behaviour and attitude at work and affect work performance. In turn, this may lead to recognition, reward and ultimately a stable environment within the workplace resulting in uplifting of satisfaction and/or quality of life (Haag, 2005).

Barnett and Hyde (2001) explain that work and the workplace (i.e. job role quality) can potentially enhance family well-being and positive aspects of family life (i.e. family role quality) can spill over into the workplace. Studies done in 2006 that focused on White professional workers have supported the view that work-family experiences affect physical health. Greenhaus, Allen and Spector (2006) state that apart from conflict and positive spill over, physical health and emotional reactions to combining work and family roles are also a crucial outcome of interest. Higher positive spill over between work and family has been associated with better self-appraised health (Grzywacz, 2000).

Malik, Saif, Gomez, Khan and Hussain (2010) found that social support is moderately related to employee performance and job satisfaction and has a weak relationship with work-family balance, whereas employee performance is moderately related to job satisfaction. The hypothesis can thus be formulated that positively experienced emotion episodes in the workplace can be strongly associated with salary, occupational stress, empowerment, company and administrative policy, achievement, personal growth, relationship with others, and the overall working condition. It has been argued that an increase in positive affect can influence job satisfaction that can increase worker productivity (Shikdar & Das, 2003; Wright & Cropanzano, 1997).

The mentioned positive emotion episodes with the highest frequency (goal achievement, receiving recognition and personal incidents) all occurred on an individual level. These episodes may also point to the importance of a meaningful work-life for the employee. Goal achievement and receiving recognition may be perceived by the employee as critical factors in perceived career success. It clearly points to motivational factors and the importance of feedback regarding performance. These events also provide information on episodes that can possibly contribute to work engagement. An enhancement of the experience of these episodes may also foster job satisfaction and enhance the self-confidence of employees.

Categories of episodes for negative emotions experienced

In total, 267 negative experienced emotion episodes were reported. Behaviour of work colleagues, acts of boss or superior or management and task requirement were the highest reported negative emotion episodes. Lack of receiving achievement, wellness of colleagues and unfairness in the workplace were reported as the episodes with the lowest frequency.

Haag (2005) mentions that emotion episodes related to people would be more negative to people in general than events related to things at work. Behaviour of work colleagues was reported most in this sample group. Negative emotion episodes occur more often when people feel particularly bad about their jobs; problems with colleagues or the boss and frequent daily hassles will, for example, lead to a 'not so good' quality of life or lack of well-being.

The emotion episode acts of boss or superior or management was reported the second most. If negative behaviour from one's manager and colleague occurs at work, the employee's well-being will suffer and in turn this will affect work performance. Acts of colleagues and acts of management could account for 59% of instances in which employees experienced negative emotion episodes and are likely to contribute to the experience of negative workplace emotions (Basch & Fisher, 2000).

When looking at the third highest episode, task requirement, it may lead to an individual feeling especially bad about his or her job and could result in a tendency to avoid social events. Laplante (2009) states that task requirements are determined by the boss or customer; therefore, by analysing the task requirements, it determines whether the stated requirements are clear or unclear, complete or incomplete. Task requirement also relates to job demands in the workplace. Jones and Bright (2001) state that job demands represent the psychological stressors in the workplace. These include factors such as interruption, time pressures, conflicting demands, reaction time required, pace of work, proportion of work performed under pressure, amount of work, degree of concentration required, and the slowing down of work caused by the need to wait for others.

The negative episodes with the highest frequency (behaviour of work colleagues, acts of boss or superior or management and task requirement) suggest that a leading cause of perceived negativity is interactions with other employees. These episodes point to factors that are inherent in the workplace. It indicates that relationships at work are seen as factors that can influence job satisfaction. The role that social support plays in emotion experiences should be regarded as important. It also becomes important to consider workplace features as predictors of the experience of negative emotion episodes.


The participants experienced difficulty in providing two (2) emotional episodes that took place in the workplace. The nature of the questionnaire was very time consuming and some of the participants indicated that they were not fully familiar with the vocabulary of the emotion terms used in the questionnaire regarding the emotion episodes. Many of the participants reported that this was the first time they had completed such a questionnaire in general, and in particular a questionnaire based on emotions, but they really enjoyed it. This research made use of availability sampling, which could have influenced frequencies obtained of emotion episodes. One can argue that people who experienced a negative emotion episode had a greater motivation to participate. The critical incidents were self-reported experiences and the role of emotion regulation and management was not accounted for. The study only focused on one cultural group in the population and not all provinces were included in the research. During the time of this data collection, strikes by workers and problems with transport were experienced in South Africa. This could have led to the high reported rate of negative emotion episodes at work and can be seen as a limitation in the present study.

Conclusions and recommendations

Firstly, it would be interesting to determine which emotions and action tendencies are linked to the more positive episodes and which are linked to negative episodes. The second suggestion is to investigate which emotion episodes relate more to female and which more to male workers, thirdly to determine whether the age group, gender or marital status play a role in the number of negative emotion episodes experienced in the workplace. Fourthly, which organisations and occupations experience more satisfying episodes and which negative emotion episodes, and lastly, correlations with individual differences (such as emotional intelligence) and organisational constructs (such as job satisfaction and organisation commitment) can be determined.

The results clearly indicate that goal achievement, receiving recognition and personal incidents were the most reported within the positive content emotion episodes category. The end result of the first two categories is job satisfaction. Job satisfaction has a major effect on people's lives and can benefit in various ways, such as one's physical health, mental health and social life and the roll-over to life satisfaction. Indirectly, job satisfaction benefits the organisation, because satisfied workers will be much more productive, it will affect absenteeism for the better, employees will perform better at work, and they will be retained within the organisation for a longer period.

Personal incidents play a major role in any organisation because the workplace can potentially enhance family well-being and positive aspects of family life will spill over into the workplace; therefore, higher positive spill over between work and family, as reported in this study, has been associated with better self-appraised health and effects on an employee's psychological well-being at home and in the workplace. Goal achievement, Receiving recognition and Personal incidents are part of those aspects of the job that make people want to perform, and provide people with satisfaction; therefore, it is important. In order to understand people's behaviour at work, managers or supervisors must be aware of the concept of needs or motives, because this may lead to more positive emotion episodes in the workplace.

In the categories of negative emotion episodes, behaviour of work colleagues', acts of boss or superior or management and task requirement were reported most. All three reported categories may be the result of abuse of power in the workplace, such as workplace bullying, sexual harassment and narcissistic managers. Workplace bullying commonly occurs in organisations where dominant subordinate hierarchical relationships exist; therefore, it can lead to a destructive effect on the physical and mental health of the victim. Effective leadership is essential to the operation of the organisation and there is no place for narcissistic leaders who have an overpowering sense of self-importance, coupled with the need to be the centre of attention and who will often ignore the viewpoints of others within the organisation. Such behaviours harm the potential follower employees, as well as the organisation.

The overall conclusion can be made that organisations have many assets that contribute towards their success. One of the most important assets that any organisation can have is people. People are considered to be a valuable resource and that resource carries energy, which, in turn, creates productivity. For this resource to be fully captured and utilised, it is important for that resource to experience goal achievement and positive personal incidents so that well-being surrounds the individual's life at work and releases positive energy. When an unhappy or confrontational relationship exists between a manager or colleague and the employee, it will sap the energy from the precious resource and lead to negative emotions, non-performance and non-achievement contributing to the resultant unsuccessful organisation.



Competing interest

The authors declare that they have no financial or personal relationship(s) which may have inappropriately influenced them in writing this article.

Authors' contributions

C.S.J. (North-West University) and A.vd.M. (North-West University) contributed equally to the writing of this article.



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Cara Jonker
Private Box X6001
Potchefstroom 2520
South Africa

Received: 26 Jul. 2011
Accepted: 04 May 2013
Published: 22 July 2013

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