The Relevance of Discrete Emotional Experiences for Human Resource Management: Connecting Positive and Negative Emotions to HRM

Research in Personnel and Human Resources Management

ISBN: 978-1-78756-322-3, eISBN: 978-1-78756-321-6

ISSN: 0742-7301

Publication date: 16 July 2018


Organizational behavior scholars have long recognized the importance of a variety of emotion-related phenomena in everyday work life. Indeed, after three decades, the span of research on emotions in the workplace encompasses a wide variety of affective variables such as emotional climate, emotional labor, emotion regulation, positive and negative affect, empathy, and more recently, specific emotions. Emotions operate in complex ways across multiple levels of analysis (i.e., within-person, between-person, interpersonal, group, and organizational) to exert influence on work behavior and outcomes, but their linkages to human resource management (HRM) policies and practices have not always been explicit or well understood. This chapter offers a review and integration of the bourgeoning research on discrete positive and negative emotions, offering insights about why these emotions are relevant to HRM policies and practices. We review some of the dominant theories that have emerged out of functionalist perspectives on emotions, connecting these to a strategic HRM framework. We then define and describe four discrete positive and negative emotions (fear, pride, guilt, and interest) highlighting how they relate to five HRM practices: (1) selection, (2) training/learning, (3) performance management, (4) incentives/rewards, and (5) employee voice. Following this, we discuss the emotion perception and regulation implications of these and other discrete emotions for leaders and HRM managers. We conclude with some challenges associated with understanding discrete emotions in organizations as well as some opportunities and future directions for improving our appreciation and understanding of the role of discrete emotional experiences in HRM.



Connelly, S. and Torrence, B. (2018), "The Relevance of Discrete Emotional Experiences for Human Resource Management: Connecting Positive and Negative Emotions to HRM", Buckley, M., Wheeler, A. and Halbesleben, J. (Ed.) Research in Personnel and Human Resources Management (Research in Personnel and Human Resources Management, Vol. 36), Emerald Publishing Limited, pp. 1-49.

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Interest in emotional phenomena in organizational contexts and has increased exponentially over the last 30 years. This diverse and growing area of research has considered a variety of emotional variables and processes in the workplace such as the influence of positive and negative affect on attitudes and behavior, theories, measurement, and correlates of emotional intelligence, emotional labor and how to manage emotions, and others (see reviews by Barsade & Gibson, 2007; Brief & Weiss, 2002; Joseph, Jin, Newman, & O’Boyle, 2015; Shockley, Ispas, Rossi, & Levine, 2012). Responding to calls for research to examine the complexities of emotions beyond positive/negative valence and high/low arousal, emotion scholars have recently begun investigating the causes and consequences of discrete or specific emotions like happiness, anger, fear, guilt, pride, and interest (e.g., Hu & Kaplan, 2015; Kish-Gephart, Detert, Treviño, & Edmondson, 2009; Michie, 2009). Functionalist perspectives on discrete emotions suggest that all emotions have benefits and that specific feeling states arise from cognitive appraisals of the environment regarding the relevance and importance of a situation and one’s ability to respond to and cope with situational demands (Baumeister, Vohs, DeWall, & Zhang, 2007; Keltner & Gross, 1999; Lazarus, 1991; Roseman, Spindel, & Jose, 1990; Scherer, 1984; Smith & Ellsworth, 1985).

Discrete emotions are central to basic human experience and are felt every day in workplaces around the globe. While much research has focused on relating basic positive and negative affective states to work attitudes and behavior, there are still many compelling questions about discrete emotions in the workplace and how they relate to human resource management (HRM). For instance, should selection systems incorporate assessments of discrete trait and/or state emotions or their intensity? Do assessments of discrete emotions have unique effects apart from personality assessments? Do emotions influence how and what people learn in training? In what ways do emotions influence formal and informal employee voice? Addressing these and other questions requires additional theoretical and empirical examination of the role of discrete emotional experiences in HRM policy and practices.

This review integrates research on discrete emotions with HRM systems and practices, highlighting some opportunities for research and practice. In the first section, we discuss the rationale for studying discrete emotions. While numerous theories and studies relate emotion constructs and processes to workplace attitudes and behavior, little has been said about how these attitudes and behaviors fit into HRM practices or how HRM policies and practices influence workplace emotions. Additionally, discrete emotions are, in some senses, the foundation or starting point for understanding many other emotion-related phenomena in organizations. Next, we selectively review functionalist approaches to emotion, offering definitions and describing the progression of theories from this perspective as they have been applied to organizational settings. We then suggest possible ways emotions can be linked to strategic HRM, discussing emotions in the context of Lepak, Liao, Chung, and Harden’s (2006) HRM review and framework. This valuable framework offers a strategic or macro view of HRM for organizing the micro aspects of HRM practices. Given their multi-level nature (Ashkanasy, 2003; Ashkanasy, Troth, Lawrence, & Jordan, 2017) emotions have the potential to exert influence at macro and micro levels of HRM. Using Lepak et al.’s (2006) framework, we review recent research on discrete emotions in the workplace to highlight the relevance of positive and negative emotions for five domains of HRM practice, including: (1) selection, (2) training/learning, (3) performance management, (4) incentives/rewards, and (5) employee voice. We discuss the implications of interest, pride, fear, and guilt for these HRM practices in order to demonstrate their potential positive and negative effects. This is important for addressing a persistent positivity bias – that positive emotions are beneficial and negative ones are not – which has existed in the emotions in organizations literature for decades (Gooty, Gavin, & Ashkanasy, 2009; Lindebaum & Jordan, 2012). Following this, we offer implications for leaders and HRM managers regarding the perception and regulation of discrete emotions. Finally, we acknowledge some challenges facing researchers studying discrete emotions in organizations as well as some opportunities and future directions for improving our appreciation and understanding of the role of discrete emotions in HRM.

Why Study Discrete Emotions and HRM?

Connecting discrete emotional experiences to systems and practices of HRM is interesting and useful for a number of reasons. Organizational behavior literature has seen the relatively recent addition of research examining discrete emotions with respect to attitudes and behavior relevant to HRM policies and practices (e.g., Johnson & Connelly, 2014; Kiewitz, Restubog, Shoss, Garcia, & Tang, 2016; Michie, 2009). This shift in focus away from general affective trait variables (e.g., mood and positive and negative affectivity) toward specific emotional states such as pride, anger, guilt, interest, fear, anger, and hope/optimism suggests there is value to understanding the nature and effects of specific feeling states in the workplace. These studies enable a look at complex appraisals like situational certainty and controllability that are associated with discrete emotions and go beyond appraisals of valence and arousal (Lerner & Keltner, 2000, 2001; Roseman, 1991; Smith & Ellsworth, 1985).

Multi-level, Context-Specific Understanding

Discrete emotional states also inherently reflect the interaction of situational factors with individual perceptions and reactions. An event that triggers a particular emotional experience for one individual in a particular context may result in a different emotional experience for that person if the event occurs in a different context. Additionally, two or more individuals experiencing an event in the same context may experience different emotions. Accordingly, studying discrete emotions facilitates more complex within- and between-person understandings of how features of the HRM environment influence emotional states for specific individuals or for groups of people, and how these emotional states in turn influence subsequent attitudes, judgments, information processing, social interactions, and many other behaviors that have implications for HRM practices (Elfenbein, 2007; Keltner & Gross, 1999; Keltner & Haidt, 1999; Lazarus, 1991; Weiss & Cropanzano, 1996). This approach responds to recent calls for studying specific emotions in context (Gooty, et al., 2009). Ashkanasy et al.’s (2017) review of the multi-level model of emotions (Ashkanasy, 2003) and linkage to select HRM domains focuses on the importance of emotion regulation within individuals, between individuals, in groups, and as part of creating a healthy organizational climate. This provides an excellent foundation highlighting the infusion of emotions into daily work life and the need for managers and employees to regulate them. However, additional insight into how specific emotions exert influence in HRM domains as well as the functionality and dysfunctionality of both positive and negative emotions requires more attention.

Addressing the Positive Emotion Bias

Focusing on discrete emotions may also help to remedy the positivity bias in research on emotions in organizations. Many scholars have highlighted the limitations associated with assuming that positive emotions have positive effects and negative emotions have negative effects (Basch & Fisher, 2000; Gooty, Connelly, Griffith, & Gupta, 2010; Lindebaum & Jordan, 2012). There are several reasons why such assumptions are problematic. Baumeister et al. (2007) note that humans would not have evolved to retain positive and negative emotions as part of their basic biology and functioning if they were not adaptive in some way. Second, studies have shown positive effects of negative emotions in certain job task contexts and vice versa. For example, anger results in better outcomes in negotiations in the short term (Van Kleef, De Dreu, & Manstead, 2004a, 2004b) and positive emotion inhibits task persistence on creative tasks (Zhou & George, 2001). Third, studies of emotion in work performance domains focusing predominantly on positive or negative affective valence have shown conflicting results (Baas, De Dreu, & Nijstad, 2008; Gooty et al., 2010; Van Knippenberg & Van Kleef, 2016). Studies comparing same-valence emotions (e.g., anger, sadness, and guilt) have shown differential relationships of emotional states like anger, sadness, and guilt to cognitive, social and behavioral outcomes like perceptions of a leader (Lewis, 2000), riskiness of decisions (Lerner & Keltner, 2000, 2001), and responsiveness to feedback (Johnson & Connelly, 2014). There is clearly more than just positive or negative valence exerting influence in these studies. Increasingly, research has demonstrated that other situational appraisals associated with discrete emotions result in differing patterns of responses even when two emotions share the same valence (Moors, Ellsworth, Scherer, & Frijda, 2013). Lindebaum and Jordan (2012) also suggest that the emotion intensity, motivational value, and situational appropriateness work together to determine whether negative and positive emotions are functional or dysfunctional. This evidence suggests there is merit in continuing the research on discrete emotions in organizations and seeking to understand their role in HRM systems and practices aimed at improving employee motivation, performance, and well-being.

Explicitly Connecting Discrete Emotions to HRM

Conceptual and empirical work on discrete emotions and specific HRM practices such as employment testing, performance feedback, and employee voice has been increasing over the last decade, but is still relatively limited to a small range of HRM practices and emotions (e.g., Gabriel, Cheshin, Moran, & Van Kleef, 2016). Research has tended to be more broadly focused on emotional competencies and abilities (Ashkanasy & Cooper, 2008; Ashkanasy & Humphrey, 2011; Grandey, 2000; Zeidner, Matthews, & Roberts, 2004). Indeed, emotional capacities such as empathy, perceiving emotions in oneself and others, and regulating emotions are critically important to work behavior and well-functioning HRM systems and practices. However, when and how to effectively employ empathy or particular emotion regulation strategies may depend on a more complex understanding of how specific emotions are triggered (Diefendorff, Richard, & Yang, 2008), in what contexts, and what effects these states have on specific individuals, dyads, or larger organizational units. What value do specific emotions have during feedback processes? What emotions might inhibit or facilitate on-the-job learning and training outcomes? At what point should leaders step in (if at all) to help employees to regulate negative or positive emotions? How do employee emotions mediate or moderate responses to incentives and rewards?

Extending Theory to HRM Contexts

Finally, there are solid theoretical foundations to guide studies of discrete emotions and HRM processes and practices. Theories incorporating discrete emotions have been developed and refined over time, falling under the general category of functional approaches to emotions. Functional theories emphasize the benefits of emotions because each serves important functions in shaping and guiding adaptive responses to the environment (Barrett & Campos, 1987). This often occurs indirectly through stimulating information processing and goal strivings (Baumeister et al., 2007). Emotions exert important influences on processes, attitudes, perceptions, judgments and behavior known to facilitate or inhibit performance, turnover, and other key work outcomes (Ashkanasy, 2003; Barsade & Gibson, 2007; Brief & Weiss, 2002). Functionalist approaches to discrete emotions, particularly cognitively oriented theories, offer important insights regarding causes and consequences of discrete emotions in organizations. Additional research is needed to understand the potential for HRM policies and practices to trigger specific emotions and how these emotions might influence the effectiveness of HRM policies and practices.

Functional Approaches to Discrete Emotions and HRM

Given the varied approaches to studying emotion, different definitions have emerged enabling researchers to focus on particular aspects of emotion such as philosophical roots (e.g., Solomon, 1993, 2004), neurophysiological bases (e.g., Cacioppo & Gardner, 1999; Davidson, 2000), cognitions (Lazarus, 1991; Roseman, 1991; Smith & Ellsworth, 1985), experiences (Lambie & Marcel, 2002), expressions/displays (Ekman, 1993; Ekman & Friesen, 2003), and adaptiveness/functions (Johnson-Laird & Oatley, 1992; LeDoux, 1995). Functional approaches define discrete emotions as “biologically-based patterns of perception, experience, physiology, action, and communication that occur in response to specific physical and social challenges and opportunities” (Keltner & Gross, 1999, p. 468). These approaches emphasize the benefits and adaptiveness of positive and negative emotions in helping people to solve problems and pursue opportunities in the surrounding environment, recognizing that sometimes emotions have negative consequences.

Several elements of functional emotion theories (Keltner & Gross, 1999) are useful for articulating possible roles of emotions in HRM systems and practices. First, functional theories explain why people experience discrete emotions. Emotions (joy, interest, fear, anger, etc.) have been adaptive in an evolutionary sense because they have helped early humans deal with physical and social threats to survival. Today, they help us read, interpret, respond appropriately, and built relationships in complex social and cultural contexts, including organizations (Frijda, 1988, 1994; Keltner & Gross, 1999; Markus & Kitayama, 1991). Discrete emotions reflect valuable traits and states that can facilitate learning new job skills (including emotional abilities), communicating with coworkers, working in teams, responding to incentives, and feeling motivated to take on challenging or new work activities. Functional approaches to emotion also recognize that different subsystems of emotion serve different functions (Keltner & Gross, 1999). For example, verbal and non-verbal emotions facilitate communication, autonomic emotion processes motivate actions and responses that differ across discrete emotions such as approach or avoidance (Frijda, 1988, 1994). The perceptions and feelings/experiences of emotion consciously and subconsciously provide important information shaping judgments, decisions, and priorities (Lazarus, 1991). HRM practices that trigger certain emotions may result in better communication, improved decision making, and more employee willingness to speak up about important issues affecting organizations. Or, HRM practices could result in different emotions that inhibit communication, decision making, and voice. The emotions that employees and managers display also have the potential to shape HRM policies and practices over time.

Cognition plays an important role in the experience of discrete emotional states. Cognitive appraisal theories of emotion (Frijda, 1993; Roseman, 1991; Smith & Ellsworth, 1985) reflect the functional approach to emotion. These theories differentiate emotions based on patterns of environmental appraisal (e.g., How relevant is this situation to my goals? Is the situation going to help me meet my goals or will it block them? How much uncertainty surrounds the situation? Who or what caused this situation? How much control do I have in this situation?). Theories of emotions in the workplace that either focus on or include discrete emotions often emphasize the importance of cognitive appraisals. Accordingly, cognitive appraisal theories are described first, followed by other organizational theories that have shaped our understanding of discrete emotions at work in important ways.

Cognitive Appraisal Theories

According to cognitive appraisal theories, specific emotions arise from an evaluation of the environment and how well one will be able to cope with it. However, these appraisals lead not only to the subjective feelings we commonly think of as emotions, but are also related in distinct ways to several other components of experiencing an emotion, including motivating action tendencies, physiological responses, and behavioral responses (Moors et al., 2013). Appraisal theories identify a variety of dimensions or appraisal content, appraisal processes, and the automaticity of those processes. For example, Roseman (1991) proposed the following appraisals dimensions as differentiating discrete emotions: motivational state (rewarding or punishing), situational state (presence or absence of a motivational state), certainty, legitimacy, and causal agency (who or what caused the situation). Smith and Ellsworth (1985; 1987) and Ellsworth and Smith (1988) articulate somewhat different dimensions, including: pleasantness, attention (situation bears paying attention to or not), certainty, legitimacy, responsibility (causal agent), anticipated effort in responding to the situation, control (ability to cope with the situation), and perceived obstacles. While different theories propose different sets of dimensions, a recent state of the art review of appraisal theories points out that there is empirical support for and general agreement on goal relevance, goal congruence, certainty, control, and agency (Moors et al., 2013).

Moors et al. highlight several other points sometimes missed in cognitive appraisal research. Individuals who make a lot of situational appraisals experience more differentiated emotional states versus those who make few appraisals. Not all employees will experience the same depth and variety of emotional experience, making it unlikely that a given human resource (HR) practice will produce a uniform emotional response or that individual employee emotions will influence HR practices to the same degree. Additionally, processes underlying situational appraisals vary in their automaticity and the extent to which they involve: (1) rule-based appraisal (one or more dimensions are evaluated and combined into an overall assessment); (2) associative-based appraisal (matching of the present situation to prior events and appraisals stored in memory); and/or (3) sensory-motor appraisal (input from the body contributes to specific emotions). Some HR practices may trigger automatic appraisal due to rapid matching with similar events stored in memory, while other HR events will trigger more deliberative situational appraisals. Finally, Moors et al. (2013) note the potential for within- and between-person differences in cognitive appraisals. While the appraisal patterns associated with a particular emotion are stable, the same situation (e.g., giving an important presentation at work) can result in different appraisals for different individuals (high certainty vs low; high controllability vs low) and hence different emotional experiences (e.g., pride vs fear). It is also possible that an individual’s goal (the presentation is not as relevant for one’s new work goals) or coping ability (more experience giving presentations) shifts over time resulting in a different emotion the next time.

A rich and varied empirical literature exists with respect to cognitive appraisal theories of emotion and a comprehensive review is beyond the scope of this paper. Some cognitive appraisal research has continued to examine the nature of appraisals associated with specific emotions (e.g., Frijda, Kuipers, & Ter Schure, 1989; Manstead, Tetlock & Manstead, 1989; Reisenzein & Hofmann, 1993; Siemer, Mauss, & Gross, 2007). Other research streams examine the relationship of cognitive appraisal dimensions and/or their associated emotions with numerous psychological processes and behavior relevant to a range of HR systems and practices. For example, cognitive appraisal theory has been incorporated into research on occupational stress (e.g., Fugate, Kinicki, & Prussia, 2008; Richardson, Yang, Vandenberg, DeJoy, & Wilson, 2008; Taris, Peeters, Le Blanc, Schreurs, & Schaufeli, 2001), risk perception (e.g., Keller et al., 2012; Kugler, Connolly, & Ordóñez, 2012; Lerner & Keltner, 2000, 2001), consumer behavior (e.g., Bagozzi, Gopinath, & Nyer, 1999; Han, Lerner, & Keltner, 2007; Nyer, 1997; Ruth, Brunel, & Otnes, 2002; Watson & Spence, 2007), workplace incivility (e.g., Bunk & Magley, 2013), and many other areas. Cognitive appraisal theories were introduced into the organizational behavior and work psychology literature with the publication of affective events theory (AET; Weiss & Cropanzano, 1996) which we describe next.

Affective Events Theory

AET (Weiss & Cropanzano, 1996) was one of the first frameworks in the emotions in organizations literature to explicitly incorporate cognitive appraisal theory and the idea that discrete emotions have cognitive and emotion-related consequences that influence job attitudes and performance. At the time AET was introduced, highlighting the importance of dynamic within-person emotional states, stable dispositional affect, and between-person emotional traits was novel. AET proposes that the work environment sets the context for and influences the kinds of affective work events likely to occur. Cognitive interpretations of specific work events trigger general affective states as well as discrete emotions, which in turn influence affect-driven behaviors (e.g., facial, vocal or other observable displays of emotion), cognitive judgments (e.g., attitudes like job satisfaction), and judgment-driven responses (e.g., evaluations of information, risks, or decision options). Dispositions or traits such as negative and positive affectivity also influence the experience of discrete emotions directly, and indirectly, by moderating the effects of events on felt emotions. AET was not intended as a detailed explanatory theory but as a framework for generating research questions and developing more specific theories about when, how, and why work events cause emotions at work and processes and mechanisms through which emotions influence outcomes (Weiss & Beal, 2005).

Indeed, this framework has stimulated a tremendous amount of research relevant for understanding work behavior in the context of HR systems and practices. For example, AET has been applied to better understand emotions and customer service work (Basch & Fisher, 2000; Walker, van Jaarsveld, & Skarlicki, 2014; Wegge, Dick, Fisher, West, & Dawson, 2006), information technology work (Shaw, 2004), organizational justice (Weiss, Suckow, & Cropanzano, 1999), and workplace bullying (Glas⊘, Vie, Holmdal, & Einarsen, 2011). AET has also been integrated into and extended by theorizing in areas such as emotional labor, emotion regulation (Diefendorff & Gosserand, 2003; Diefendorff et al., 2008; Lam & Chen, 2012), workplace well-being (Cropanzano & Dasborough, 2015; Ilies, Schwind, & Heller, 2007; Kipfelsberger, Herhausen, & Bruch, 2016), organizational climate (Pirola-Merlo, Härtel, Mann, & Hirst, 2002), and emotions in teams and groups (Ilies, Wagner, & Morgeson, 2007). While AET was not initially discussed as a multi-level theory of emotions (Weiss & Cropanzano, 1996), it clearly describes emotional phenomena operating at different levels, including momentary state emotions and dispositional emotion, stimulating research at within-person, between-person, and group levels. AET was influential in the emergence of Ashkanasy’s (2003) more explicit and comprehensive multi-level theory of emotions.

The Multi-level Theory of Emotions

While prior research has suggested that emotions serve valuable functions at individual, dyadic, and group levels (Keltner & Gross, 1999; Keltner & Haidt, 1999; Weiss & Cropanzano, 1996) Ashkanasy’s (2003) multi-level model of emotion is the first integrative theory to include five levels and to link these to organizational contexts. This theory includes a broad array of emotion constructs and processes, including discrete emotions. While discrete emotions are addressed predominantly as part of the within-person level (level 1) discrete emotional experiences have implications for all of the remaining levels.

Level 1 includes the momentary discrete emotional states such as fear, anger, and pride but also positive and negative affectivity and general mood. Like AET, Ashkanasy’s (2003) multi-level theory emphasizes the importance of considering within-person changes in emotion states and how these exert influence in the workplace.

Between-person differences in emotion constructs comprise level 2 in the model, including the experience, expression, or regulation of discrete emotions and moods. Trait-based emotions and affect are included here. While individuals experience momentary changes in state emotions, they also have more stable affective tendencies that exert influence across situations and events.

Level 3 describes the role of discrete emotions, emotion displays, and emotion regulation in interpersonal exchanges as they influence communication and impression management. This level highlights the importance of emotions in social exchanges which can provide information about others’ emotions, beliefs, and intentions (Keltner & Haidt, 1999). Displays of certain emotions by one person may result in similar or reciprocal emotions in another person, with the potential to shape a number of attributes of the interaction such as the affective tone of the exchange, length and content of the exchange, and assessments of future exchanges. Discrete emotion displays during interactions with coworkers or supervisors could be particularly important for establishing and maintaining effective working relationships.

Level 4 focuses on how groups are influenced by the emotional composition of group members and by how leaders use emotion with other group members for a variety of purposes (e.g., to motivate or intimidate). Emotional contagion or the spread of positive and negative emotions is also important, especially for workgroups experiencing new opportunities, change, or crises that threaten their well-being.

Level 5 is comprised of broad contextual variables that relate to employee emotions. Organizational climate (the collective mood of employees toward the organization and its policies, procedure, and management) and culture (collective beliefs, values, and assumptions employees have about an organization) both have emotional foundations. Climate and culture not only influence employee emotional experiences and displays through policies and practices that create affective events, but they can also be shaped and changed overtime by discrete employee emotions.

AET and the multi-level theory of emotions (Ashkanasy, 2003) both suggest that emotions and the cognitive appraisals giving rise to these emotions provide information to the self and others in organizational contexts, thereby shaping subsequent reactions and responding. The emotions as social information (EASI) model (Van Kleef, 2009) is a relatively recent theory of discrete emotions that focuses on emotion influences in interpersonal contexts.

Emotions as Social Information

The EASI model was developed as a general theory to account for the role of emotions in interpersonal situations, including those in the workplace which might involve conflict, negotiation, leader–subordinate exchanges, and other interactions involving the experience and display of emotion (Van Kleef, 2009). Similar to the theories already described, EASI is rooted in functional approaches to emotion and is supported by research showing the beneficial (and sometimes detrimental) effects of both negative and positive emotion displays (e.g., Pietroni, Van Kleef, De Dreu, & Pagliaro, 2008; Sy, Côté, & Saavedra, 2005; Van Kleef et al., 2004a; Van Kleef, De Dreu, & Manstead, 2006). EASI proposes that emotional displays influence an observer’s behavior through two processes or pathways – observer affective reactions (path 1) and observer inferences or information about the situation gleaned from the emotional display (path 2). Behavioral responses might differ for each of these paths of influence.

The size of effects exerted through each path depends on a number of other factors. If the observer’s ability and motivation to process information is high, they are likely to more thoroughly process information from the emotional display, resulting in greater influence of the inferential path on behavior. Observers who are not able or motivated to process information from the emotional display are likely to be more susceptible to the influence of their own affective reactions. These could include feeling the same or similar emotion as the one being displayed due to emotional mimicry or contagion or could include reciprocal emotions (e.g., sympathy in response to a display of sadness). Van Kleef (2009) also suggests that social–relational factors influence the effect sizes of these pathways. Factors such as the interpersonal relationship, emotion display rules in the organization, organizational climate, or the nature of what triggered the emotion might indicate the extent to which the emotional display is appropriate. More information processing is likely to occur when the display is appropriate. When emotional displays are inappropriate, the affective path is more likely to exert influence on the observer’s behavior.

The EASI model explains why different employees can respond differently to the same emotional display occurring during an HR event. For example, if a leader appears angry at the start of a feedback meeting with a subordinate, the inferential path might lead a subordinate who has a good working relationship with the leader to think about potential reasons why the leader is angry, including the possibility that progress on the project is not going well or that the leader is dealing with something else that is making her angry. Accordingly, the subordinate might suggest to the leader ways in which the project could be improved or might just ask the leader how things are going today. Alternatively, if a subordinate does not have a particularly good relationship with the leader, he may not be motivated to process why the leader is angry, resulting in greater activation of the affective path. The subordinate could catch the leader’s anger and fume through the rest of the meeting, potentially failing to attend to important feedback.

These functional theoretical approaches to understanding the influences of discrete emotions in the workplace suggest that emotions may exert complex and important influences in HR systems and practices. We turn now to a discussion of an HRM framework that offers one way to connect emotions with HR systems and practices.

Strategic HRM Framework

To integrate theories and research on positive and negative discrete emotions into an HRM context, we draw from a well-established HRM framework developed by Lepak et al. (2006) which describes a multi-level systems approach to HR programs. The framework provided by Lepak et al. (2006) offers a strategic perspective for organizing individual practices (e.g., selection, training, and performance management) in HRM. This general framework allows for the discussion of HRM and discrete emotions across multiple levels of analysis and the potential strategic (i.e., macro) and functional (i.e., micro) interaction of HRM and emotions (Wright & Boswell, 2002). In terms of discrete emotional experiences, both macro and micro HRM elements have the potential to influence emotional experiences at work given that the strategic interests of organizations often structure the environment and climate of the organization, and HR practices serve as specific affective events for employees. In turn, emotional experiences triggered by HR procedures have considerable implications for the attainment of HRM objectives given the varied cognitive, attitudinal, and motivational functions elicited by discrete emotions. Even though employees may appraise policies, practices, and procedures differently (Kozlowski & Klein, 2000), these appraisals influence experiences within the workplace and subsequent emotional responses. Alternatively, as described in multi-level perspectives of emotion (Ashkanasy, 2003; Ashkanasy et al., 2017), the accumulation of similar emotional experiences over time has the potential to influence HRM practices.

Lepak et al. (2006) discuss the strategic and mutually reinforcing nature of HR at three levels of abstraction: HR practices, HR policies, and HR systems (Jiang, LePak, Han et al., 2012; Lepak et al., 2006). HR practices operate at the lowest level of abstraction and are explicit activities (e.g., multisource feedback and on-the-job training) implemented by an organization to attain certain outcomes. HR policies (e.g., selection, performance management, incentives, and rewards) influence the selection of HR practices and reflect the stated intentions of the organization about the specific activities that should be pursued (Wright & Boswell, 2002). As noted by Posthuma, Campion, Masimova, and Campion (2013), policies define and guide organizational efforts to facilitate the achievement of the company’s goals. At the highest level of abstraction, HR systems represent coordinated bundles of HR policies and practices intended to reach organizational objectives and are oriented in ways that reflect the espoused goals and values of the company (Jiang, LePak, Han et al., 2012).

Variations in the strategic objectives of HR systems depend on the strategic objectives of organizations, reflecting an emphasis on control, employee commitment and involvement, high performance, safety, and others (Lepak et al., 2006). Control HR systems attempt to improve efficiency through compliance with rules and regulations, well-defined roles, and close monitoring of employee behavior. High-commitment systems foster employee commitment to organizational goals through practices and conditions that permit employees to exert extra effort. High-involvement systems aim to enhance employee performance by implementing practices that directly influence how employee perform their job (e.g., employee empowerment, information sharing, and job rotation). High-performance systems incorporate aspects of high commitment and high involvement and involve significant investment in practices that develop all aspects of human capital (Posthuma et al., 2013). HR systems for safety concentrate efforts on improving and reinforcing safety-related behavior (Zacharatos, Barling, & Iverson, 2005). Finally, HR systems for customer service target practices toward fostering high-quality service for its customers (Gabriel et al., 2016).

Lepak et al. (2006) draw connections between HR systems and organizational climate research in explaining the mechanisms through which these systems impact employees. The policies, practices, and procedures enacted by organizations operate as top-down influences that shape the environment and employee perceptions of the environment through interactions with the workplace (Lepak et al., 2006). Organizational climate and work contexts can directly and indirectly influence emotional processes, including the experience of discrete emotions and their functional/dysfunctional effects (Grandey & Gabriel, 2015; Parke & Seo, 2017). Organizational characteristics and features, including HR policies and practices, influence the occurrence of workplace events, which in turn are proximal causes of emotional experiences (Ashkanasy et al., 2017; Hu & Kaplan, 2015; Weiss & Cropanzano, 1996). Repeated interactions with policies and practices suggest that HR systems may foster certain patterns of discrete emotional experiences (Härtel & Ashkanasy, 2011). For example, high-involvement HR systems may enact practices that encourage positive, approach-oriented emotional experiences to motivate employees to engage at work. On the other hand, HR systems for occupational safety may implement practices that promote avoidance-oriented emotional experiences that lead to safer, more risk-averse behaviors. Interestingly, specific positive and negative emotions may be more compatible than others with the strategic objectives of HR systems. Functional theories of emotions such as social functional theory (Keltner & Gross, 1999), cognitive appraisal theory (Roseman, Spindel, & Jose, 1990; Smith & Ellsworth, 1985, 1987), and EASI (Van Kleef, 2009) argue that discrete emotions serve particular functions by motivating and directing behaviors that may be more or less adaptive depending on the context. An affective match between HR functions and discrete emotional experiences may represent an important mediating mechanism between the HR system and multiple types of performance (organizational, unit, and individual employees).

In addition to influencing emotional processes through the organizational environment, the connection between HR systems and discrete emotions can also be made at lower levels of analysis. Lepak et al. (2006) argue that all HR systems operate by exerting influencing on three key determinants of individual performance: ability to perform, motivation to perform, and opportunity to perform, adapted from AMO theory (Appelbaum, Bailey, Berg, & Kalleberg, 2000). Therefore, all HR systems, regardless of their strategic orientation, contain three general policy domains reflecting: (1) knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs); (2) motivation and effort; and (3) opportunity to perform (Jiang, Lepak, Hu, & Baer, 2012; Lepak et al., 2006). The KSAs policy domain encompasses the skills-enhancing practices of recruitment, selection, and training. The motivation and effort domain includes practices intended to enhance employee motivation, including performance management, compensation, and incentives and rewards. Lastly, the opportunities to perform domain comprises practices designed to help employees reach objectives, such as participation and voice, job design, and working in teams.

Building on this framework and functional emotions research, specific positive and negative emotions arising in the context of HR practices are likely to have consequences for an employee’s ability, motivation, and opportunity to perform based on the cognitive, motivational, interactional, and behavioral influences of discrete emotions (Baumeister et al., 2007; Frijda, 1994; Keltner & Haidt, 1999; Lench, Flores, & Bench, 2011; Van Kleef, 2009). Prior work has suggested that emotional states influence cognitive and information processing involved in creativity (Baas et al., 2008; Fredrickson, 1998), planning (Connelly & Johnson, 2015), and risk taking (Lerner & Keltner, 2000, 2001). The pattern of appraisals underlying each discrete emotion elicits changes in individuals that exert effects on cognition and decision making (Lerner & Tiedens, 2006). For instance, anger is associated with appraisals that the self or another has been wronged, a sense of a situational control, and narrow focus on the source of the anger, whereas fear produces a lack of certainty about the situational causes and focuses attention on avoidance of the threat (Lerner & Keltner, 2000). While the underlying pattern of appraisals associated with a given emotion are stable, events or circumstances that trigger a particular emotion for a particular person will sometimes differ. Discrete emotions also represent motivating forces that direct action tendencies in individuals, provide information and feedback about goal progress, and influence goal commitment and future goal strivings (Baumeister et al., 2007; Buck, 1985; Carver, 2006; Levine & Pizarro, 2004; Seo, Barrett, & Bartunek, 2004). Brockner and Higgins (2001) argue that emotions are intertwined with the approach and avoidance self-regulatory processes that motivate behavior in the workplace. Positive and negative emotions can elicit both promotion- and prevention-focused behaviors, including happiness and frustration and relaxation and sadness, respectively (Baas et al., 2008). Discrete emotions also exert influence in interpersonal settings through the display of emotion and subsequent interpretation/reaction of that emotional expression (Van Kleef, 2009) and contagion and sharing effects can impact group-level processes (Mackie & Smith, 2017).

Taken together, positive and negative emotional experiences appear to play a pivotal role in the context of HR systems, policies, and practices. Functional perspectives suggest that discrete emotions should display unique effects across different outcomes that could be adaptive or maladaptive depending on the context and the individual. Furthermore, the multi-level influences of discrete emotions suggest that emotions will not only be influenced by HR systems and practices through the occurrence of specific events but also have a reciprocal relationship with HR practices as emotions emerge through and impact higher levels of analysis (Ashkanasy, 2003; Ashkanasy et al., 2017). Next, we provide illustrative examples of four emotions in the context of HR practices in the domains of employee abilities, motivation, and opportunities to contribute.

Pride, Interest, Fear, and Guilt and HR Practices

To illustrate the roles of discrete emotions in HR, we discuss two positive and two negative emotions (pride, interest, fear, and guilt) in the context of HR systems and practices. The rationale for the use of these emotions is twofold. First, broad theoretical and empirical literature exists on each of these emotions in the psychological literature (e.g., Fredrickson, 1998; Lerner & Keltner, 2000; Silvia, 2005; Tangney, Stuewig, & Mashek, 2007; Tracy & Robins, 2004) documenting the complex appraisals, antecedents, and consequences of these emotions which can be applied to HR contexts. Second, there is initial evidence that each of these emotions is gaining traction in the emotions in the workplace literature (e.g., Gooty, Gavin, Ashkanasy, & Thomas, 2014; Winslow, Hu, Kaplan, & Li, 2017) in ways that suggest their potential benefits and drawbacks. We define these discrete emotions first, then highlight their influences in HR contexts.


Pride is defined as an emotion “generated by appraisals that one is responsible for a socially valued outcome or for being a socially valued person” (Mascolo & Fischer, 1995, p. 66). Pride, a self-conscious emotion, is argued to be of particular interest to organizational scholars because of its potential to motivate action toward goal attainment and enhance feelings of self-worth and self-enhancement (Gooty et al., 2014; Hu & Kaplan, 2015; Tracy & Robins, 2004). Interestingly, researchers have suggested that pride contains two different facets: authentic pride and hubristic pride (Tracy & Robins, 2007). Authentic pride arises from appraisals of unstable, controllable causes (e.g., I achieved this outcome because I practiced), whereas hubristic pride results from appraisals of stable, uncontrollable causes (e.g., This happened because I am great; Tracy & Robins, 2007). As such, feelings of authentic pride are often based on specific accomplishments and feelings of hubristic pride typically arise from self-evaluative processes (Tracy & Robins, 2007). The dual nature of pride has important adaptive and maladaptive consequences for workplace behaviors. Employees that experience authentic pride may engage in more functional organizational behaviors, including prosocial and achievement behaviors (Michie, 2009; Weiss et al., 1999). On the other hand, feelings of hubristic pride may lead to more dysfunctional behaviors, such as self-absorption and less prosocial behavior (Gooty et al., 2014; Wubben, De Cremer, & van Dijk, 2012).


Interest, a knowledge-based emotion, is closely associated with the concepts of curiosity, intrigue, and exploration (Fredrickson, 1998; Silvia, 2005). Often considered a motivational variable, interest is demonstrated to contain affective components (e.g., appraisals and functions) supporting the assertion that interest is a fundamental emotion (Hidi, 2006; Silvia, 2005, 2008). Izard (1977) describes interest as “the feeling of being engaged, caught-up, fascinated, curious” (p. 216). Feelings of interest arise from situations appraised as novel and complex in addition to being comprehensible (Silvia, 2008). Therefore, the situational content has considerable influence over the experience of interest in the workplace. Functional attributes of interest include the motivation to learn and exploratory, approach behaviors (Fredrickson, 1998; Kashdan, 2004). As discussed by Fredrickson (1998), interest, therefore, is a critical determinant of an individual’s development of knowledge and expertise as this emotion broadens one’s mindset and encourages creative behavior.


Fear arises from perceptions of danger or threat and is associated with appraisals of low certainty and low situational control (Lerner & Keltner, 2000, 2001). Even though fear is infrequently studied within organizational contexts, feelings of fear can be elicited in day-to-day workplace experiences (Connelly & Turner, in press). Fear of change, fear of failure, and fear of success are example appraisals employees may encounter on the job (Appelbaum, Bregman, & Moroz, 1998). While typically viewed in an undesirable light, fear can produce both functional and dysfunctional outcomes for employees based on the situation in which it is experienced. In general, feelings of fear produce avoidance behaviors and cognitive and information-processing behaviors that focus on the perceived threats (Maner & Gerend, 2007). Furthermore, fear leads to more pessimistic judgments about the future and lower-risk decisions compared to other negative emotions, such as anger (Lerner & Tiedens, 2006). The tendencies associated with fear have considerable implications for employee behavior, ranging from communication and silence (Kish-Gephart et al., 2009) to learning (Parker & Isbell, 2010) and ethical decision making (Kligyte, Connelly, Thiel, & Devenport, 2013).


Guilt results from the appraisal that one has done something wrong by violating moral or social norms. Tangney et al. (2007) describe that guilt, a self-conscious, moral emotion, emerges from events when an individual perceives that their past behavior has led to a wrongdoing or is inconsistent with set of accepted standards. Guilt often leads people to take personal responsibility for undesirable outcomes stemming from these transgressions. In contrast to other self-blame emotions (i.e., shame), guilt emerges from the action of the individual, not the person themselves (Tangney, 1990). While an unpleasant emotion, research consistently demonstrates that guilt produces functional responses. Guilt often leads to compliant, reparative behaviors, such as apologizing and helping behavior (Ilies, Peng, Savani, & Dimotakis, 2013; Johnson & Connelly, 2014) as well as perspective taking and constructive responses (Mascolo & Fischer, 1995; Tangney et al., 2007). Moreover, guilt may shift employee focus away from future performance toward the past violation inducing the emotion (Gooty et al., 2014). However, the continual experience of guilt could also have negative effects on well-being (Hochwarter, Perrewé, Meurs, & Kacmar, 2007).

Drawing on relevant research, we explore explicit roles of these four emotions in five HR practices outlined in the Lepak et al. (2006) framework – two from the ability domain, two from the motivation domain, and one from the opportunity to contribute domain. These include: selection, training/learning, performance management, incentives and rewards, and employee voice.

HRM Practices and Discrete Emotions


Personnel selection systems and HR practices help organizations to identify and hire individuals with knowledge and competencies relevant for the job and organization. Selection tests and assessments measure a variety of KSAs designed to predict job performance and other criteria of interest that will contribute to individual, group, and organizational effectiveness (Ployhart & Schneider, 2005). Example selection policies include hiring selectivity and matching candidates to job demands or firm strategy and commonly used selection practices include employment tests (e.g., personality and cognitive ability), structured interviews, and assessment centers (Lepak et al., 2006; Posthuma et al., 2013). Strategic differences in organizational mission and values shape different approaches to HRM which in turn results in the implementation of different selection practices across organizations. For instance, HR systems for occupational safety may employ tests that assess an applicant’s willingness to maintain safe behaviors and personality factors that contribute to safety (Christian, Bradley, Wallace, & Burke, 2009), whereas HR systems for customer service may focus on practices that identify candidates with the emotion capabilities and tendencies enabling them to conform with the display rules of the organization (Gabriel et al., 2016).

While prior work has recognized that emotional experiences, such as anxiety, nervousness, and enthusiasm, can influence applicant judgments and behavior during the selection process (Ayres, Keereetaweep, Chen, & Edwards, 1998; Turban, Lee, Veiga, Haggard, & Wu, 2013), to what extent have discrete emotions, either directly or indirectly, been considered in selection and assessment contexts? Parke and Seo (2017) discuss that the practices implemented by organizations may lead to the selection of individuals with certain affective tendencies (e.g., positive affect). Although the incorporation of explicit emotion assessments in selection systems is likely the exception rather than the norm (cf. Chafkin, 2009), organizations may implicitly hire candidates with certain emotional tendencies through more common assessments, such as personality tests. Personality as a predictor of job performance and behaviors has received considerable attention and support in the literature for its use in selection settings (Ones, Dilchert, Viswesvaran, & Judge, 2007). Tests of personality constructs, such as conscientiousness and extraversion, and compound personality traits (e.g., integrity) are commonly implemented into organizational selection systems. Interestingly, personality dimensions demonstrate relatively stable relationships with emotional experiences (Izard, Libero, Putnam, & Haynes, 1993; Wilson & Gullone, 1999) suggesting that use of personality assessments may indirectly impact the emotional tendencies of employees. Izard et al. (1993) argue that the motivational and behavioral properties of discrete emotion establishes a linkage between personality characteristics and emotional experiences, a connection that appears to be stable and strengthen over time (Wilson & Gullone, 1999). For instance, interest is related to the personality traits of achievement and endurance, whereas fear is associated with aggression (Izard et al., 1993). While not commonly recognized, personality assessments may have considerable implications for employee discrete emotional tendencies at work.

Recent work relating proneness to experiencing emotion with aspects of performance suggests that the use of trait emotion measures have merit in selection contexts (Cohen, Panter, & Turan, 2013; Cohen, Kim, Jordan, & Panter, 2016). At the very least, trait emotions meet the minimum criteria needed for being a predictor in hiring settings. Individuals display stable differences in their proneness to feeling certain emotions (e.g., pride, interest, fear, and guilt) which predict behaviors and responses that contribute to employee and organizational performance. Importantly, the dispositional tendency to experience certain positive and/or negative emotions contributes to the intensity and nature of state emotions that are triggered by affective work events (Weiss & Cropanzano, 1996). Four discrete emotions demonstrate the potential positive and negative influences of discrete emotions on employee selection and performance.

Pride and Selection

From a selection standpoint, authentic pride is more desirable than hubristic pride. Authentic pride is the achievement-oriented component of pride that promotes positive social behaviors and a mastery-learning approach (Ho, Tong, & Jia, 2016; Tracy & Robins, 2007). Hubristic pride is the egotistic-oriented aspect of pride that promotes social dominance and a performance-learning approach (Tracy & Robins, 2007). In terms of job performance, individuals with dispositional tendencies related to authentic pride are likely to be achievement driven and display discretionary workplace behaviors that benefit employees and the organization (Wubben et al., 2012). Experiences of authentic pride have correlated positively with prosocial and proactive behaviors (Bagozzi, Sekerka, & Sguera, 2018; Michie, 2009). This may be especially important for organizations with customer service or employee involvement HR systems. On the other hand, individuals who are prone to feeling hubristic pride have demonstrated more maladaptive, counterproductive workplace behaviors on the job (Carver, Sinclair, & Johnson, 2010). Tracy, Cheng, Robins, and Trzesniewski (2009) found that hubristic pride is positively related to narcissism, misbehavior, and Machiavellianism. Employees with higher levels of hubristic pride are likely to be overconfident in their capabilities and lack awareness about how their capabilities fit with the needs of the job, characteristics unlikely to be beneficial for gaining skills and knowledge in any type of HR system.

Interest and Selection

From a trait perspective, interest-proneness is conceptually similar to the construct of curiosity, or the desire for new knowledge and experiences (Litman, 2005). Litman and Silvia (2006) describe that the “feeling-of-interest” is a central component underlying curiosity and represents the pleasurable experiences from new information. Curiosity has been theoretically and empirically linked with important workplace behaviors, including newcomer adaptation (Harrison, Sluss, & Ashforth, 2011; Silvia, 2008), creative performance (Hardy, Ness, & Mecca, 2017), and job performance above and beyond cognitive and non-cognitive predictors (Mussel, 2013). Organizations that operate in rapidly changing technological and economic environments will likely benefit from hiring employees that are interested in learning and exploring new topics and developing alternative methods for approaching performance. Furthermore, high-performance systems that invest significantly in practices geared toward employee development (Lepak et al., 2006), may achieve more return on investment if employees are interested in new experiences and activities aimed at increasing knowledge. On the other hand, control HR systems which emphasize well-defined roles and little training (Lepak et al., 2006) may find employees that experience less curiosity and interest a better fit for their organization.

Fear and Selection

Fear in the workplace is often assumed to be dysfunctional, however, the activating potential and avoidance-oriented focus of fear can have dysfunctional and functional consequences for cognitions and behaviors underlying job performance (Connelly & Turner, in press). Dispositional fear has been shown to result in counterproductive organizational behaviors such as cyberloafing (Zoghbi Manrique de Lara, 2006). Conversely, several functional workplace behaviors may arise in individuals prone to fear. Fear can lead to more evaluative assessments of risk and less risky decisions (Lerner & Keltner, 2001). Lebel (2017) suggests that the energizing properties of fear can motivate proactive, discretionary effort to change threating situations. Additionally, fear can promote learning and adaptability directed toward threats (Baumeister et al., 2007). For safety HR systems, fear may be a rather adaptive dispositional tendency for employees given that these systems focus on reducing accidents and safety violations and fear produces more risk-averse behaviors. The underlying appraisal of uncertainty might also be reduced in control-oriented HR systems with well-defined roles and clear rules.

Guilt and Selection

Guilt-proneness is the individual tendency to feel bad about personal wrongdoings (Tangney, 1990). Prior research has found trait guilt to be a rather functional emotion despite its negative valence. Employees have the potential to commit wrongdoing in small ways, such as spreading negative gossip about coworkers, or large ways such as stealing from the organization. Those with the tendency to feel guilt, as opposed to other negative emotions (i.e., shame), may respond more productively because guilt is associated with taking personal responsibility and a desire to make amends and repair social relationships (Tangney, 1995). Cohen et al. (2013) found that guilt-prone individuals were less likely to engage in counterproductive workplace behaviors suggesting that the anticipation of behavioral wrongdoings may also deter guilt-prone individuals from committing workplace transgressions. More recently, Cohen et al. (2016) assessed job applicants applying for a law enforcement job on guilt-proneness, finding that applicants who scored higher on trait guilt were judged as being more suitable for the job and less likely to display counterproductive tendencies related to a lack of self-control, socialization, and responsibility. Grant and Wrzesniewski (2010) found that core self-evaluations were more strongly associated with productivity for call center employees who worried more about potentially letting others down (anticipated guilt). Furthermore, HR systems with a strong interest in employee commitment (i.e., high commitment and high performance) may find guilt-proneness a desirable trait in employees as Flynn and Schaumberg (2012) found that guilt-prone individuals displayed higher levels of affective commitment with their employer. Specifically, these authors found that guilt-proneness was related to affective commitment through task effort on the basis that those with the tendency to experience guilt were more motivated to exert extra effort toward task completion and the avoidance of negative outcomes (Flynn & Schaumberg, 2012).

Guilt has the potential for negatively affecting job performance by the role it plays in work–family conflict and its negative relationships with well-being and satisfaction and positive relationships with anxiety and depression (Jones & Kugler, 1993). Greenhaus, Allen, and Spector (2006) found that guilt is one pathway through which work–family conflict influences satisfaction and physical health. Hochwarter, Perrewé, Meurs, and Kacmar (2007) also showed that work-induced guilt had negative effects on job satisfaction and life satisfaction when employees were not able to manage work resources. Relatedly, employees with more work contact outside of regular work hours felt more guilt and distress than those with less contact outside regular hours (Glavin, Schieman, & Reid, 2011). Additionally, guilt fully mediated the effects of this type of work contact on distress, and more so for women than men. Repeated feelings of guilt can harm well-being given its positive association with distress.

Emotions are also relevant in other HR practices oriented toward developing employee KSAs. Relationships between discrete emotions and organizational training are considered next.


Training in organizations is one of the most effective HR practices for developing and enhancing employee skills, knowledge, abilities, and performance (Arthur, Bennett, Edens, & Bell, 2003; Goldstein & Ford, 2002). Many organizations invest substantial time, effort, and money in developing and delivering training to socialize employees, to develop a variety of specific capabilities contributing to task performance, such as cognitive and problem-solving skills, interpersonal skills, leadership capabilities, psychomotor skills, and to make process improvements in the organization (Arthur et al., 2003; Salas & Cannon-Bowers, 2001). There is tremendous variety in how training is conducted. Arthur et al. (2003) note that training is generally effective in terms of its effects on trainee reactions, learning, behavioral transfer to the job, and organizational value, across a range of training approaches. Training programs can be implemented using formal classroom approaches that incorporate lecture, discussion, group activities, audio-visual aids, and job simulations. Alternatively, training can involve a combination of informal on-the-job learning through observation, self-paced instruction, team training, just-in-time training, job rotation, and online or computer-assisted learning (Salas & Cannon-Bowers, 2001). The nature of training and development opportunities tends to align with the strategic emphasis of the HRM system. In high-performance and high-involvement HR systems, training is likely to be extensive and tailored to specific groups or individuals, to occur at multiple career points, and to include formal, informal, and self-development delivery modes. Alternatively, control and service-oriented HR systems may involve more standardized, formal training to ensure consistency and quality in task execution.

Recent evidence points to the importance of considering trainee individual differences that contribute to employees’ ability to learn from training and to apply or transfer that learning to improve job-related behavior and performance (Bell & Kozlowski, 2008, 2010; Gully & Chen, 2010). While it has long been recognized that cognitive abilities, knowledge, and domain expertise contribute to learning and skill acquisition (Cronbach & Snow, 1977; Kanfer & Ackerman, 1989) as well as motivational processes and learning goals (Button, Mathieu, & Zajac, 1996; Dweck, 1986; Elliot & Harackiewicz, 1996), the role of affective traits and specific emotions has only recently received attention. Gully and Chen’sattribute–treatment interaction framework suggests that a range of individual differences, including emotional capabilities, and different aspects of training such as goals and feedback, influence attention, information processing, motivation, and emotions experienced by trainees. These mechanisms, in turn, influence the quality and amount of learning, transfer of the learning to job behavior, and affective outcomes such as attitudes toward training. However, this model does not explicitly address the roles of discrete emotions.

Emotions are an important aspect of motivational and learning processes associated with organizational training (Beier & Kanfer, 2010; Short & Yorks, 2002). The conditions of training will, in part, determine whether negative and positive emotions are beneficial or detrimental to learning and other training outcomes. Short and Yorks (2002) suggest that trainees sometimes bring with them a fear of learning or a fear of what they don’t know, stemming from prior negative training or organizational learning experiences. They may also have a fear of failure or dislike being evaluated by others. However, negative and positive emotions can motivate employees to engage with training, apply effective learning strategies, and find support from instructors and others in the training (Pekrun, Goetz, Titz, & Perry, 2002; Short & Yorks, 2002).

While there is a wealth of literature on the negative effects of anxiety on learning and evaluation in learning contexts, there is much less theorizing and empirical data regarding other discrete emotions. One exception to this is Pekrun et al. (2002) who examined data from 11 samples of high school and college students (seven cross-sectional, three longitudinal, and one diary study) to identify the variety, frequency, and sources of emotions in students’ self-regulated learning and achievement. Using the Academic Emotions Questionnaire, this research found that student learners experience a wide range of positive emotions (e.g., enjoyment, joy, hope, pride, relief, and gratitude) and negative emotions (boredom, hopelessness, anxiety, sadness, disappointment, shame, guilt, anger, envy, and contempt) that could generalize to adult learners in training contexts. These emotions were related to student motivation, learning strategies, cognitive resources, self-regulation, and academic achievement. Both individual differences and features of the learning environment contributed to the experience of discrete emotions. Academic self-efficacy or learners’ belief that they could master the material as well as the value learners placed on learning and achievement were causally related to experiencing certain emotions. For example, perceptions of high control and high value resulted in enjoyment, while low control and high value predicted anxiety. Finally, this research found that the learning environment such as teacher enthusiasm, achievement pressure, peer competition, autonomous learning, feedback and instructor reactions to student achievement were positively related to students experiencing enjoyment and hope, but were also positively related to anger, anxiety, hopelessness, and boredom.

Emotions also have effects on many cognitive processes involved in learning and training such as attention (Fredrickson, 2001; Fredrickson & Branigan, 2005), memory (Levine & Pizarro, 2004), information processing (Elfenbein, 2007; Lerner & Keltner, 2000, 2001), and self-regulation of learning (i.e., goal setting) (Pekrun, Elliot, & Maier, 2006). Certain positive emotions like interest tend to broaden attention and promote heuristic information processing (Fredrickson, 2001; Isen, 1999) while certain negative emotions such as fear direct attention toward specific threats or triggers, promoting a more systematic evaluative processing style (Tiedens & Linton, 2001). Different kinds of achievement goals important in training contexts such as mastery goals (learning and mastering the material) performance approach goals (performing well on the knowledge test at the end of training) and performance avoid goals (not signing up for training to prevent poor performance) (Button et al., 1996) are also associated with different discrete emotions. For example, Pekrun et al. (2006) found that mastery goals predicted enjoyment, hope, and pride; performance approach goals were associated with pride; and performance avoid goals were associated with anxiety, hopelessness, and shame. Mastery and performance approach goals are compatible with appraisals of control, goal relevance, and self-responsibility. These processes are considered next through linking pride, interest, fear, and guilt to training and learning in organizational contexts.

Pride and Training

The relationship of pride to training participation and outcomes likely depends on whether an employee experiences authentic pride or hubristic pride (Tracy & Robins, 2007). Given that authentic pride is based on specific accomplishments resulting from effort, practice, so on, this type of pride may motivate employees to seek out training opportunities that further develop their KSAs. Authentic pride may trigger mastery goals and expectancies that participating in training will result in learning and the ability to take on new work tasks or to perform work tasks more expertly or efficiently, because it stems from appraisals that effort leads to accomplishment. Additionally, successful participation in and completion of training could also result in feelings of authentic pride. Pekrun et al. (2006) found that pride correlated positively with motivation and effort in learning, self-regulated learning, and the use of metacognitive strategies such as elaboration and organization of material. Pride was negatively related to task-irrelevant thoughts during learning. Supportive training environments that facilitate mastery of new material, provide quality feedback, and include opportunities for practice will foster the effort, learning, and accomplishment associated with authentic pride. Alternatively, hubristic pride may prevent employees from seeking out training opportunities because this type of pride stems from seeing one’s capabilities as more stable and less controllable by outside influences. Employees experiencing hubristic pride may see themselves as already fully capable and not in need of training. This type of pride may also reduce the effectiveness of training if it results in low effort during training or discounting of negative feedback.

Interest and Training

Interest serves as a motivator for employees to seek out training opportunities or can be generated by participation in training. While no empirical studies of the role of interest in training exist, interest has been shown to influence learning in a number of ways. Fredrickson (1998) suggests that interest serves the purpose of broadening exiting knowledge, skills, and thought-action repertoires by increasing attentional focus and enabling flexible, divergent thinking. Interest is also positively related to intrinsic motivation, stimulating learning for the sake of learning (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Fredrickson, 1998; Silvia, 2008). Whether training activities are formalized or on-the-job, interest facilitates a desire to learn and master new ideas, technology, processes or other work task domains. Thus, interest is likely to foster mastery or learning goals during training (Pekrun et al., 2006). This may be especially important in high-performance and high-commitment HR systems, where informal, self-paced learning and intrinsic motivation play a large role in what employees gain from training. Interest is arguably one of the most important emotions in active learning contexts where learners have control over the sequencing and managing of training activities to facilitate knowledge and skill acquisition (Bell & Kozlowski, 2010). Recent findings from Hu and Kaplan (2015) and Winslow et al. (2017) showing a positive relationship of interest to task satisfaction suggest that interest will also have positive effects on user reactions to training.

However, the appraisals of low situational control, other responsibility, and low certainty associated with interest may place more demands on trainers and the training environment to develop and maintain interest over time. For example, when more routine kinds of knowledge or skills require training, interest may be difficult to generate because these training activities fail to stimulate curiosity and may be seen as less important (Fredrickson, 1988). Additionally, interest may be less compatible than other discrete emotions in the face of performance-oriented training goals. Training occurring in service, control, or safety-oriented HR systems that aim to improve efficiency, safety, or task performance may actually decrease interest given its narrow focus and lack of novelty.

Fear and Training

Some employees may fear learning new concepts, technologies, or skills. This could stem from prior difficulties in learning contexts or fear of failing at the training challenges ahead (Short & Yorks, 2002). Fear prior to or during training suggests that employees feel threatened and uncertain about the nature or demands of the training (requirements, length, difficulty, etc.). Additionally, fear is associated with perceptions of low controllability. Mandatory training for employees to learn or maintain critical job knowledge and skills suggests little or no choice in training participation, contributing to perceptions of low controllability. Additionally, employees with less pre-training knowledge or skills could experience both uncertainty regarding whether they will be successful in completing training or a lack of control over their ability to learn. Fear appraisals could be unhelpful for training if they result in narrow information processing and little risk taking (Lerner & Keltner, 2000; Tiedens & Linton, 2001) both of which could inhibit exploration, experimentation, and trial-and-error behaviors characteristic of active learning environments (Bell & Kozlowski, 2010). Fear could prevent employees from seeking out needed skill development opportunities or inhibit effort and performance during training. Some factors such as time, resource availability, and fear intensity make it more difficult to regulate or reduce fear to a more functional level. The EASI model suggests that trainers own emotional displays and responses to trainee emotions have the potential to shape constructive or dysfunctional responses to fear (Connelly & Turner, in press; Van Kleef, 2009). Trainers or others involve in employee development efforts can help employees alter appraisals of uncertainty and low control by providing more guidance, feedback, and encouragement during such efforts.

Training in some occupations may involve readying employees to deal with physical and psychological threats such as police work, nursing, and military jobs (Connelly & Turner, in press). These occupations may, for this reason, have HR systems emphasizing safety and control. Safety in these occupations is of paramount importance and some degree of caution, risk aversion, and careful, systematic information processing during training could be highly beneficial. These appraisals and action tendencies are associated with fear. Research on fear suggests that it serves adaptive purposes by highlighting goal discrepancies and motivating greater effort and persistence toward goals (Baumeister et al., 2007). Modest levels of fear rooted in past experiences could promote the desire to reduce accidents or safety incidents on dangerous jobs. Lebel (2017) argues that fear will only produce proactive behavior aimed at improving the situation or resolving the threat when leaders support employees through building their confidence and efficacy in coping with the situation. Thus, fear, if managed appropriately, can have functional effects on training participation and performance. It is important to recognize that the degree of fear or intensity is likely to vary across employees. Additionally, fear offers some benefits if the intensity is low to moderate, something to consider when regulating this emotion.

Guilt and Training

Training is sometimes offered or required in organizational settings where employees are underperforming, making errors that have critical consequences, or behaving unethically. This could be true across the various types of strategic HR orientations. Given the appraisals and action tendencies associated with guilt, including feeling responsible for norm or standard violations, making amends, and trying to undo transgressions, guilt could motivate employees to seek out training and development. Here again, there is little empirical data on the relationship between guilt and organizational training. However, to the extent that training activities are seen as a pathway for getting skills up to required standards or learning organizational standards for conduct, guilt is likely to motivate employees to seek out and engage in training opportunities in order to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to prevent similar violations in the future. Depending on the nature and severity of the violation as well as the responses of leaders and co-workers, feelings of guilt can evolve to be less functional. When guilt develops into feelings of shame, where an employee feels bad about him or herself as a person and rather than feeling bad about the behavioral lapse, it results in lower self-efficacy and avoidance behavior (Tangney & Dearing, 2003).

The HR policy and practice domain focused on fostering employee motivation and effort has been linked to generalized affective constructs in prior research, but only a limited amount of empirical research has considered discrete emotions. Performance management is an HR practice where affective events and hence specific emotional states are a common occurrence. We consider the linkage of discrete emotions to this practice next.

Performance Management

Performance management is comprised of HR activities aimed at evaluating and enhancing the performance of organizational members. Performance management efforts involve providing employees with information concerning components of their job performance (Kluger & DeNisi, 1996) with the goal of aligning individual action with the objectives and values of the company (Baker, Perreault, Reid, & Blanchard, 2013). Specific practices captured under performance management include frequent feedback meetings, multisource feedback (e.g., 360-degree feedback systems), and feedback based on strategic goals (Posthuma et al., 2013). Performance management activities are critical for performance effectiveness as these efforts represent the main channel through which employees receive information about their performance, their contributions to the organization, and areas in need of development (Banks & May, 1999). Performance-related appraisals and feedback have the power to motivate and direct goal-related behaviors (Locke & Latham, 2002). Different types of HR systems and individual practices are likely to emphasize different styles and methods of providing feedback which has implications for the types of emotions employees and managers will experience. Control and safety-oriented HR systems may, by necessity, place more emphasis on error mitigation and correcting problems than on employee development, which could be more characteristic of feedback systems in service, high-performance, and high-involvement systems. The variation in individual manager feedback styles across all HR system types will also influence the emotional tone surrounding feedback.

A critical determinant of the performance management effectiveness resides in employee reactions to feedback. Performance feedback represents an affective event given the potential positive and negative valence of the information (Gaddis, Connelly, & Mumford, 2004). As such, emotional responses to feedback are considered as an important component to the feedback process (Fedor, Eder, & Buckley, 1989; Ilies, De Pater, & Judge, 2007; Kluger & DeNisi, 1996). Researchers have proposed several routes through which feedback impacts the emotions of the recipient. The goal-setting perspective provides a within- and between-person account for emotional responses to performance feedback. This perspective holds that feedback provided to employees indicating a discrepancy between performance standards and observed performance should lead to experiences of negative emotion (Kluger, Lewinsohn, & Aiello, 1994) producing reparative behaviors on the part of the employee. However, recent work suggests that different negative emotions may produce different behaviors following negative feedback (Johnson & Connelly, 2014). Conversely, when performance standards are met and positive feedback is provided, employees should experience positive emotions and aim to achieve new performance goals (Kluger et al., 1994).

Given the interpersonal nature of performance management practices, interpersonal levels of analysis may influence emotional responses in employees (Ashkanasy et al., 2017). The EASI model (Van Kleef, 2009) has also been proposed as a framework for explicating the emotion-inducing nature of feedback activities (Johnson & Connelly, 2014). Whereas the prior theoretical perspective suggests that the feedback message itself produces emotional reactions, the EASI model suggests that emotions displayed by the feedback source (e.g., supervisor) lead to emotional responses and cognitive inferences in the recipient. Emotional displays serve as a source of information that can result in reciprocal affective reactions or be used to interpret the feedback message (Fedor et al., 1989; Ilies, De Pater et al., 2007). Therefore, the discrete emotion expressed by the feedback giver provides specific information to the employee resulting in corresponding emotional and behavioral responses (Van Kleef, 2009). Importantly, differential positive and negative emotional responses can arise from the emotion expressed during the feedback process. These discrete emotions may have varying consequences for the resulting reactions from the employee (Gaddis et al., 2004; Johnson & Connelly, 2014). Collectively, discrete emotional experiences in the context of performance management practices (i.e., supervisor feedback and multisource feedback) appear to have significant implications for subsequent employee motivation and behavior.

Pride and Performance Management

Performance management and appraisal practices that emphasize individual achievement, as opposed to development or collaboration, should lead to the elicitation of pride in feedback recipients over other positive emotions, such as gratitude (Belschak & Den Hartog, 2009; Hu & Kaplan, 2015). When performance standards are met, or exceeded, and positive feedback is tied to specific performance behaviors or abilities exhibited by the employee, feelings of authentic pride should arise in employees. The achievement-oriented nature of authentic pride suggests that the feeling of pride from goal attainment should reinforce and motivate effort toward future performance goals (Latham & Locke, 1979). Carver et al. (2010) found that authentic pride was positively associated with goal re-engagement, or the tendency to seek out new goals. However, performance management practices that emphasize individual achievement in a broad sense, rather than specific behavior, have a greater likelihood of eliciting feelings of hubristic pride. The ego-centric nature of hubristic pride can cause feedback recipients to attribute their success to their innate greatness as opposed to specific abilities and efforts. These feelings may invoke less adaptive goal-setting behaviors and subsequent effort on job tasks. While both authentic pride and hubristic pride are associated with the willingness to set implausibly high goals and an overgeneralization of successes, hubristic pride displayed significantly stronger relationships with these attributes (Carver et al., 2010). Feelings of pride, particularly hubristic pride, that go unregulated following performance management practices may induce an inflated sense of one’s capabilities.

Interest and Performance Management

Developmental, as opposed to evaluative, performance management practices that focus on the identification of strengths and weaknesses or training needs may evoke feelings of interest in employees (Boswell & Boudreau, 2002). Feedback concerned with employee development is more likely to foster feelings of interest when the feedback is focused on mastering the skills and abilities needed for the job and the positive value of the task itself instead of performance goals. Eliciting interest in employees through feedback practices can enhance employee intrinsic motivation and motivate learning behaviors that enhance personal growth and knowledge development (Fredrickson, 1998). Interest can encourage employees to explore new methods for accomplishing tasks and increase the level of effort and attention directed toward their job (Winslow et al., 2017). Conversely, if organizations are exclusively outcome focused, interest may stimulate behaviors in employees that detract from productivity in favor of task exploration.

Fear and Performance Management

Despite the range of positive performance management and feedback approaches managers still experience and display negative emotions such as anger, disappointment, and frustration, especially in cases of abusive supervision (Whitman, Halbesleben, & Holmes, 2014). Additionally, feedback can sometimes lack specificity resulting in a sense of uncertainty in employees about how to respond to the feedback. This can result in feelings of fear and other negative emotions in employees. Even when managers effectively regulate their emotions while giving feedback, some employees may still experience fear about whether they are doing well enough, how their performance could affect pay or promotion possibilities, or how their performance might influence work relationships with the manager and/or coworkers. Jackman and Strober (2003) argue that feedback can induce feelings of fear as employees dislike being criticized about their performance and being informed of limitations in a given area. Performance management practices may elicit a fear of failure, or a fear of being informed about failure, given that potential shortcomings will be exposed and employees will be asked to change their behaviors (Appelbaum et al., 1998). Feedback can be threatening (Kluger & DeNisi, 1996) resulting in feedback-avoidant behaviors in employees, such that individuals avoid potential opportunities to receive feedback about their performance or deny the need for performance-related feedback altogether (Jackman & Strober, 2003).

On the other hand, fear may have the potential to produce proactive behaviors to avoid receiving critical, negative feedback. Feelings of fear may motivate behavior to reduce uncertainty (e.g., low performance) associated with the upcoming feedback and engage in actions to remove the threat (i.e., negative feedback). However, the adaptiveness of fear in feedback contexts is highly dependent on the way in which the organization frames the performance management practice (Jackman & Strober, 2003). Reframing feedback practices to mitigate intense, negative emotional experiences can improve the receptiveness of employees to critical information. Additionally, specific feedback along with suggestions for how to correct problems and improve performance reduce uncertainty and reducing feelings fear to a more optimal and motivating level.

Guilt and Performance Management

Failure to meet performance standards may be viewed by employees as a violation of organizational norms (e.g., adequate performance) and the recognition of poor performance in negative feedback settings can produce feelings of guilt in employees (Gruenewald, Dickerson, & Kemeny, 2007). Using the EASI model, Johnson and Connelly (2014) demonstrated that the expression of disappointment by the person giving informal failure feedback elicited guilt in the feedback recipient, whereas expressions of anger elicited responses of anger. The constructive, reparative tendencies associated with guilt can make this discrete emotional experience a particularly functional response in feedback contexts. Since guilt is an active, self-conscious emotion feeling guilt following negative feedback can lead to more beneficial interpersonal and task behaviors than other discrete negative emotions, such as anger, given that is emotion motivates action toward repairing past wrongdoings (Johnson & Connelly, 2014). The strong connection between negative feedback and the elicitation of negative emotions (Belschak & Den Hartog, 2009) suggests that framing feedback constructively produces adaptive negative emotions (i.e., guilt) in employees and may produce more beneficial organizational and task-related outcomes. However, effects of guilt in feedback settings have not been studied over time. If managers elicit this emotion repeatedly over time, the employee may feel less satisfied on the job (Johnson & Connelly, 2014) and experience more distress. Additionally, research is needed on how prolonged feelings of guilt induced by negative feedback influences the quality of the employee–manager working relationship.

HR practices surrounding incentives and rewards also have the potential to influence and be influenced by discrete emotions, several of which have implications for motivation and effort. Linkages between emotions and incentives and rewards are considered next.

Incentives and Rewards

Incentives and rewards practices deal with providing employees direct rewards for the performance of certain work roles or behaviors (Lepak et al., 2006). Common incentive and reward practices include variable pay (e.g., cash bonuses, commissions, and stock options), profit sharing, and indirect financial rewards (e.g., benefit and perquisites; Antoni, Baeten, Perkins, Shaw, & Vartiainen, 2017). These extrinsic rewards guide employee efforts toward specific work behaviors and reinforce organizational expectations (Posthuma et al., 2013). Incentives and rewards are extrinsically motivating to the extent to which employees believe that the incentive is of value and that increased effort will lead to the attainment of the reward (Vroom, 1964). Therefore, reward practices are implemented under the assumption that they enhance employee motivation (Cerasoli, Nicklin, & Ford, 2014).

Extrinsic rewards inherently possess an affective component (Erez & Isen, 2002). The positive or negative evaluation of a reward can create anticipated emotional expectations from outcome attainment that motivate behavior toward the reward and the actual attainment of rewards can produce emotional states. Erez and Isen (2002) demonstrate that positive affect influences individual perceptions of reward valence (e.g., attractiveness) and reward expectancy, or that increased effort will lead to improved performance. However, the activating potential of both positive and negative emotional states elicited by a reward, or progress toward the reward, can motivate behavior. Additionally, the type of incentive and reward systems enacted by organizations may induce more specific emotional states that influence employee perceptions of rewards structures. Hu and Kaplan (2015) argue that competitive and cooperative compensation systems may foster different positive emotional experiences (e.g., pride and gratitude). Furthermore, the distribution of rewards can elicit discrete emotions that motivate certain behaviors (Huseman, Hatfield, & Miles, 1987).

Pride and Incentive/Rewards

Performance-contingent rewards, or rewards given to those who exceed a performance standard, and other similar reward systems (i.e., competitive-contingent rewards; Vansteenkiste & Deci, 2003) that place an emphasis on individual achievement should foster feelings of pride. Achievement-oriented rewards may elicit anticipatory feelings of pride that motivate task-relevant behaviors. Higgins et al. (2001) argue that achievement pride produces goal orientations that energize and direct behaviors toward specific goals, particularly when individuals have a history of past successes (e.g., reward attainment). In the context of rewards, promotion-focused pride should encourage engagement in the discretionary behaviors underlying reward outcomes (Higgins et al., 2001). Furthermore, Weidman, Tracy, and Elliot (2016) suggest that authentic pride drives achievement-oriented behavioral responses and that attainment of achievement outcomes stimulates stronger feelings of pride. Incentive systems that appropriately reward individual achievements can foster prideful experiences at work, thereby motivating future achievement-oriented behavior.

Interest and Incentive/Rewards

The emotion of interest serves as a source of intrinsic motivation (Silvia, 2008). However, organizations enact incentives and rewards to enhance employee extrinsic motivation and prior research suggests that use of extrinsic rewards can undermine intrinsic motivation, or engagement in a task due to enjoyment or interest in the task itself (Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 1999). Consequently, certain organizational rewards have the potential to erode employee task interest and intrinsic motivation. Specifically, reward structures (e.g., performance-contingent) that impose control over employee behavior are likely to exert negative effects on interest (Deci et al., 1999). However, Gerhart and Fang (2014) argue that extrinsic rewards have the potential to enhance intrinsic motivation and interest if the reward provides meaningful information about self-competence and occurs in situations in which the employee has discretion about how and when to complete the task. Therefore, incentive and reward systems that lessen control over employee behavior can foster intrinsic interest through perceived competence and autonomy (Fang & Gerhart, 2012). Stimulating interest through extrinsic incentives may be particularly powerful for creative efforts given the information-seeking and exploratory behaviors driven by interest (Fredrickson, 1998).

Fear and Incentive/Rewards

Extrinsic rewards typically represent positively valenced outcomes and yet, negative emotions like fear can still be present in reward contexts in unique ways. Appelbaum et al. (1998) contend that fear of success is a form of fear that can arise in the workplace and operates in a manner similar to fear of failure. Namely, if incentive and reward practices are too exclusionary employees may feel of fear of success given that the attainment of the reward can isolate individuals from others (Appelbaum et al., 1998). Additionally, fear may be elicited in organizations where rewards are absent and punishments are present (Zoghbi Manrique de Lara, 2006). Punishments represent negatively valenced outcomes that operate on a similar spectrum as organizational rewards. Organizations may implement punishments as a means of control over employee behavior (Appelbaum et al., 1998). The use of these means can instill a sense of fear in employees. However, for certain organizational objectives (e.g., employee safety), reasonable amounts of fear may motivate desirable behaviors, such as a reduction in risk-taking behaviors (Appelbaum et al., 1998).

Guilt and Incentive/Rewards

Incentive and reward practices may elicit feeling of guilt through the unequal distribution of financial or nonfinancial rewards. Equity theory posits that individuals evaluate their outcome-to-input ratio in comparison to others’ outcome-to-input ratios and feel distress when they are unrewarded or overrewarded (Huseman et al., 1987). Specifically, individuals that are equity sensitive will experience a sense of guilt for being overrewarded for their efforts given that they recognize the resulting inequitable transgression. Feeling guilt, a self-conscious emotion, in the context of organizational rewards may facilitate constructive social and task-related behaviors. Ilies et al. (2013) demonstrated the reparative effects of guilt following organizational wrongdoings finding that higher levels of guilt lead to more compensatory behaviors, such as organizational citizenship behavior. Guilt following the attainment of rewards or incentives can motivate employees to exert extra prosocial and task behaviors on the job.

The final HR practice we consider is employee voice. Voice is one example of HR policy and practice that focuses on employee opportunities to contribute. Discrete emotions shape the occurrence and nature of voice behavior in organizations and we explore these connections next.

Employee Voice

Employee voice is a form of voluntary in-role or extra-role verbal communication regarding work-related ideas, suggestions, concerns, and problems requiring changes to the organizational status quo (Morrison, 2011, 2014; Mowbray, Wilkinson, & Tse, 2015; Van Dyne, Ang, & Botero, 2003). The constructive intentions and proactive nature of employee voice suggest that its purpose is to initiate positive change (Morrison, 2011) or resolve personal dissatisfactions (Mowbray et al., 2015). Employee voice may be encouraged by organizational leaders and supported by HR policies and practices such as formal suggestion and/or grievance processes, attitudes surveys, staff meetings, quality circles, but also emerges informally when no such policies or structures are in place (Klaas, Olson-Buchanan, & Ward, 2012). Voice behavior, such as communicating ideas or concerns to a leader, has exerted positive effects on unit functioning and is proposed to increase feelings of control, agency, being satisfied, and being valued by the organization (Morrison, 2011). Here again, the extent to which voice is encouraged and supported and the formal or informal mechanisms in place are likely to vary by strategic HR emphasis. High-performance and high-involvement systems that rely heavily on employee creativity and input are likely to encourage prosocial voice. Alternatively, control and safety-oriented systems may encourage voice for different purposes such as reporting safety or other violations, resulting in anonymous formalized systems for voice.

Research on employee voice has distinguished between formal and informal types of voice behavior (Klaas et al., 2012; Morrison 2014; Mowbray et al., 2015). These integrative reviews suggest that the general categories of formal and informal opportunities for voice involve both prosocial suggestions and perceived mistreatment (of self or others). Informal voice occurs in unstructured settings where ideas and concerns are directly communicated to others who are perceived to have the capacity to change things. Formal voice involves more structured input to suggestion systems or grievance/appeal processes where multiple people or groups are commonly involved in evaluating the input. Klaas et al. (2012) describe a myriad of influences associated with the likelihood of engaging in voice including personality variables, motives, satisfaction, organizational commitment, perceived risk and safety, utility, and perceived legitimacy in the organization. Discrete trait and state emotions have implications for many of these influences on voice.

Discussion of voice often also mentions employee silence. Van Dyne et al. (2003) articulated voice and silence (purposeful withholding ideas, opinions, information regarding work-related improvements) as distinct constructs oriented around resignation, self-protection, and prosocial motives. Resignation stems from employee feelings of disengagement and low efficacy that one can change things within the organization. This motive results in acquiescent silence, or failing to speak up due to a lack of engagement or lack of agency and acquiescent voice, or passively going along with others’ ideas. Self-protection results in defensive silence and defensive voice, behaviors driven by a fear of what will happen if one speaks up or speaks up in ways that direct attention away from the self. Prosocial motives result in prosocial silence in order to protect confidential, proprietary information and the organization, and prosocial voice, or communicating ideas and solutions that might benefit the organization.

A wide variety of organizational circumstances offer opportunities for employee voice. The choice to engage in voice behavior is due, in part, to beliefs that voicing ideas will make a difference and that there is some balance between the costs of speaking up and safety of doing so (Morrison, 2014). Emotions inform perceptions of agency, goal relevance, and anticipated outcomes. If expressed, voice provides awareness, critical feedback, or suggestions for change or growth regarding the issue(s) at hand. Some of these voice opportunities qualify as affective events that unfold into emotion episodes (Weiss & Cropanzano, 1996). These events arouse specific emotions related to unfairness, injustice, challenges, or opportunities to move in a new direction. The emotions stemming from these events may then give rise to voice, or, silence, depending on the emotions experienced and associated situational appraisals (Kish-Gephart et al., 2009) along with many other factors that potentially influence workplace voice. Engaging in voice behavior may also evoke additional emotional reactions that could be positive if an employee perceives that speaking up has the potential to create positive change, or could be negative if an employee experiences backlash or retribution for voicing the concerns or ideas. Thus, voice opportunities can trigger emotions that have the potential to facilitate or discourage employee voice and silence.

Pride and Voice

Authentic and hubristic pride are likely to show differences in the domain of employee voice similar to the other HR practices discussed. Authentic pride is positively related to reward sensitivity, positive affect, self-control, and an ability to deal with losses by adapting goals (Carver et al., 2010). On the other hand, hubristic pride is associated with the pursuit of extrinsic rewards, status and public recognition, impulsivity, and dominance rather than interpersonal connectedness (Carver et al., 2010). These patterns imply that different forms of pride will result in different motivations for voice as well as the form it takes. Authentic pride in one’s work, department, or the broader organization could result in prosocial forms of voice for the purpose of initiating positive change. If initial voice attempts are not successful, employees experiencing authentic pride may adapt their idea or reframe arguments and persist with additional voice attempts. Employee voice stemming from this form of pride may express concern with both the positive and negative impacts of the suggested ideas/changes for others given the pro-social consequences of authentic pride (Michie, 2009). Hubristic pride may also be positively related to voice attempts. However, these attempts are likely to be less prosocial, arising out of a desire to improve one’s own position or status. Given that hubristic price is associated with continual striving to rise in social or organizational hierarchies (Carver et al., 2010), those experiencing this type of pride may generate a cycle of dissatisfaction with one’s position, status, resources, so on. Data have shown that voice attempts related to grievances are more common among dissatisfied employees (Klaas et al., 2012; Olson-Buchanan, 1997). If initial attempts are thwarted, subsequent voice behavior could be more aggressive and domineering, using formal grievance mechanisms. This could result in entitled voice behavior that is self-serving rather than prosocial.

Interest and Voice

Opportunities for formal or informal voice imply that an organization is open to new ideas and willing to entertain the possibility of change. Situational appraisals and action tendencies associated with interest suggest that this emotion would generate ongoing voice attempts to pursue innovative ideas and solutions for the organization. Interest is more likely to generate voice attempts focused on prosocial changes than on resolving personal grievances or dissatisfaction. Employees with higher levels of interest in their work and the organization will have more innate curiosity about how well things are working and a greater willingness to explore new innovations, processes, and partnerships. In line with the broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions, voice opportunities may be perceived as avenues to increase knowledge and build intellectual and social resources (Fredrickson, 2001).

Alternatively, employees who are highly interested and engaged in their day-to-day work may choose not to invest time and effort in voicing concerns over grievances about organizational processes or outcomes. The decision to engage in voice behavior could depend on what employees think about where their time is best spent and makes the most difference. This decision will be influenced by perceptions regarding how much control they perceive (Tangirala & Ramanujam, 2008), how likely change is to occur in response to voice attempts (Klaas et al., 2012), and how much time and effort voice behavior takes away from an employee’s work tasks, an important consideration for employees with high work interest. Organizational responses to voice attempts could also influence interest. Recognition of and responsiveness to employee voice attempts by leaders may foster interest in pursuing a satisfactory resolution to the issue at hand, while a lack of responsiveness could extinguish interest. Interest appears to have a highly contextualized relationship to voice behavior, one more likely to be positive when the issues being voiced are closely related to the work an employee does rather than more general organizational processes or individual dissatisfactions.

Fear and Voice

Fear is one of the few discrete emotions that has been explicitly considered in the research on employee voice and silence. Voice behavior carries possible risks to employees who engage in it and others (Klaas et al., 2012; Morrison, 2014). For example, whistleblowing sometimes results in retaliation (Casal & Bogui, 2008) or proposing ideas that counter the status quo sometimes harm reputations and relationships within the organization or even job loss (Kish-Gephart et al., 2009). While employee fear can result in silence, failure to speak up can also be costly to both individuals and the organization (e.g., ethical issues, safety concerns, mistakes/errors, and harassment). Kish-Gephart et al. (2009) and Morrison (2014) note that socialization processes, ineffective leadership, and an organizational climate of fear (Ashkanasy & Nicholson, 2003) foster expectations of and actual negative consequences for employees challenge authority or bring to light unethical or problematic behavior potentially damaging to people and organizations. This contributes to a lack of psychological safety, resulting in fears about engaging in voice (Morrison, 2014).

There are several potential remedies for overcoming fear-induced silence. First, organizations might strive to create organizational climates and effective leadership structures to support employee voice and to increase perceptions of psychological safety for employees who engage in voice. Second, employees could be encouraged to reappraise the situation to evoke more active, approach-oriented emotions like anger, in order to motivate employees to speak up (Kish-Gephart et al., 2009). Many instances of voice expressing perceived mistreatment relate to thwarted goals or injustices brought about by another person or the organization. Anger is associated with taking action to counteract threats to goals and injustice (Lazarus, 1991). Because anger displays have the potential for negative consequences and repercussions, use of this emotion during voice attempts requires high levels of communication skill and emotion regulation (Kish-Gephart et al., 2009). Given the conceptual differences between silence and voice, it is interesting to consider whether a fear of not speaking up could encourage voice behavior. Highlighting the nature and severity of consequences to individual and/or the organization when unethical behavior or mistreatment goes unchecked might convince employees that the risk of speaking up is one worth taking.

Guilt and Voice

A number of factors influence employee perceptions of the legitimacy of voice behavior, or perceptions about whether voice is taken seriously in the organization. HR practices such as formalized suggestion and grievance systems lend legitimacy to employee voice, especially if their use is promoted and encouraged (Klaas et al., 2012). Additionally, the position and role an employee occupies contributes to perceptions of voice legitimacy and felt obligation to voice concerns in order to protect organizational members (Rothwell & Baldwin, 2007). Guilt-prone individuals may be more likely to participate in voice behavior when voice legitimacy is present because they will view the failure to speak up as a violation of organizational norms and standards. Anticipatory guilt signals that a potential action (or inaction like failing to report misconduct) is not acceptable and should be avoided (Tangney, 1995). It is open to question whether guilt will also exert influence on organizations where voice opportunities are predominantly informal. This could lessen the perceptions of voice as prescribed role behavior for guilt-prone individuals unless there are strong norms in place for the use of informal voice. Guilt might also encourage silence if the voicing ideas or concerns will result in costs to others or to the organization. In this case, the potential harm one might do by voicing concerns might be perceived as outweighing the potential benefits.

Implications for HRM Practice and Research

Discrete emotions connect to HR systems, policies, and practices in numerous interesting ways. The preceding examples articulate some of the reciprocal influences between positive and negative emotions in five types of HR practices across ability, motivation, and opportunity to contribute HR domains. Drawing on theory and research for four specific emotions (pride, interest, fear, and guilt) and connecting functionalist theories of discrete emotion to HRM shed new light on the pervasiveness and complexity of the roles of specific emotions in routine organizational practices. Making these linkages illustrates the potential functional and dysfunctional behavior and outcomes that can arise from specific emotional states in HR practices as well as the influence of HR practices on employee emotions. The pattern and occurrence of emotional experiences in the workplace bring to the forefront several practical implications for HRM managers and employees, including the importance of perceiving, understanding, and regulating emotions. Additionally, the preceding discussion highlights numerous avenues of future research on the role of discrete emotions in HRM.

Emotion Recognition and Knowledge

HR managers and employees who have been exposed to models of emotion and emotional intelligence (Elfenbein, 2007; Mayer, Salovey, & Caruso, 2008) may appreciate the importance of abilities such as emotion recognition and emotion knowledge. Emotion recognition, or awareness, reflects the capacity to identify emotions one or others are experiencing (Joseph & Newman, 2010; Mayer et al., 2008). Recognizing one’s own or others’ emotions involves accurate evaluation of emotional responses and awareness of verbal and nonverbal cues present in the situation (Salovey & Mayer, 1990). Izard et al. (2001) demonstrate the importance of being able to recognize and label emotional experiences and expressions. Emotional self-awareness can enable managers and employees to better evaluate their emotions and recognize the behavior and/or situation that produced the emotional experience. Additionally, emotion knowledge reflects the ability to understand emotions experienced by oneself and others, the differences between discrete emotions, the processes and outcomes of emotional experiences, and the appropriateness of emotion based on a given context (Joseph & Newman, 2010; Mayer et al., 2008). Individuals with higher levels of emotion knowledge understand which emotions are more appropriate/functional for workplace contexts (e.g., training and feedback) and the antecedents and consequences of discrete emotions. This form of knowledge entails a greater understanding of the cognitive and behavioral effects of specific emotions increasing of awareness as to the ways in which emotion can impact performance. Understanding that there are benefits and drawbacks to specific positive and negative emotions and identifying one’s own triggers for these emotions enables managers and employees to take a more nuanced look at options for regulating and optimizing emotional experiences.

Prior work suggests that the emotional abilities of emotion recognition and emotion knowledge also appear to be crucial skills for leaders and managers (Ashkanasy et al., 2017; Connelly et al., 2014; Kerr, Garvin, Heaton, & Boyle, 2005; Riggio & Reichard, 2008). A manager’s ability to accurately appraise others’ emotion, identify causes of the emotional experience, and recognize the potential consequences of the emotion are fundamental starting points for the effective management of employee emotion. Sensitivity and responsiveness to employee emotion can enable leaders to better direct or redirect emotional states in functional manners that align with the objectives of particular HR situations. Managers with contextual knowledge about discrete emotions and the goals of the situation in which they arise can be better equipped to lead employees in emotion-laden events and assist employees in managing their emotional responses.

Relatedly, research on the effects of specific leader emotional displays is important for managers to understand how their own emotional states and emotion capabilities affect others. Recent reviews of leadership and emotion research (see Gooty et al., 2010; Van Knippenberg & Van Kleef, 2016; 2015 special issue of The Leadership Quarterly) suggest that mangers need to have greater awareness of the complex ways in which positive and negative emotions influence subordinate perceptions, motivations, emotional responses, job performance, and other important behavior. Research supports the idea that effects of emotional displays in interpersonal interactions are mediated through cognitive interpretations and affective contagion (Baumeister et al., 2007; Van Kleef, 2009) and moderated by a number of factors such as leader empathy, emotional sincerity, leadership style, emotion regulation, and fit with cultural and gender expectations (Connelly & Gooty, 2015). Research is greatly needed to create new models that will accommodate more performance-oriented outcomes, functional and dysfunctional possibilities of negative and positive emotions, and dyadic leader–follower exchanges involving specific emotions (Van Knippenberg & Van Kleef, 2016).

Regulating Discrete Emotions

In addition to the prevalence of discrete emotional experiences at work, employees often engage in behaviors to increase, decrease, or maintain their emotions (Grandey, 2000). Furthermore, the emotional demands of the organization (e.g., display rules, Cropanzano, Weiss, & Elias, 2003) suggest that employees frequently exert effort to control their emotional responses. Emotion regulation, “the processes by which individuals influence which emotions they have, when they have them, and how they experience and express these emotions” (Gross, 1998, p. 275), is, therefore, an important skill for workplace behaviors. Models of emotion regulation indicate that numerous strategies can be used for managing emotional experiences (Grandey, 2000; Gross, 1998). Gross’s (1998) process model of emotion regulation suggests five categories of strategies: (1) situation selection, (2) situation modification, (3) attentional deployment, (4) cognitive reappraisal, and (5) response modulation. Even though emotion regulation can occur implicitly and subconsciously, specific regulatory strategies can be developed through practice and training (e.g., Edelman & Van Knippenberg, 2017). Moreover, individuals may utilize multiple regulation strategies to manage emotions (Gabriel, Daniels, Diefendorff, & Greguras, 2015).

Similar to the functional accounts of discrete emotion, the effectiveness of emotion regulation strategies depend on the context (Aldao & Nolen-Hoeksema, 2012). Depending on the goals and needs (e.g., performance and motivation) of the situation (e.g., training and teamwork), certain emotion regulation strategies may be more adaptive or maladaptive. For instance, cognitively reappraising feelings of anger following negative feedback toward more constructive or less intense negative emotions may assist employees in recognizing their responsibility in their poor performance. The instrumental approach to emotion regulation assumes that both positive and negative emotions serve dedicated functions and that emotion regulation strategies are enacted to experience emotional states that are most functional for the situation (Tamir, 2011). Similar to the positivity bias observed in emotion literature, emotion regulation may often be viewed as a process to enhance positive feeling states. However, individuals may seek to regulate their emotions in order to influence cognitive, motivational, and behavioral processes thereby requiring employees to enhance both negative and positive emotions depending on the context (Tamir, 2011).

Therefore, a critical question is how can organizations get employees to strategically engage in emotion regulation strategies? Training and leadership offer two promising routes for addressing this issue. Prior work suggests that intra-individual emotion regulation strategies can be developed and trained in employees (Hülsheger, Lang, Schewe, & Zijlstra, 2015). Buruck, Dörfel, Kugler, and Brom (2016) found that an affect regulation training led to sustained improvements in emotion regulation skills, specifically the acceptance, tolerance, and modification of negative emotions. Similarly, Berking, Meier, and Wupperman (2010) demonstrated that training on emotion regulation skills improved the ability of police officers to accept and tolerate negative emotions. Given the functional components of negative emotions, accepting and tolerating negative emotions is likely to facilitate task behaviors in situations that elicit negative emotions.

Managers represent another central source through which employee emotion can be managed or modified (Humphrey, Pollack, & Hawver, 2008; Thiel, Connelly, & Griffith, 2012). Recent work has explored the concept of interpersonal emotion regulation (Troth, Lawrence, Jordan, & Ashkanasy, 2017) and demonstrated its merit in leader–follower contexts (Little, Kluemper, Nelson, & Gooty, 2012; Thiel, Griffith, & Connelly, 2015). Managers who can recognize emotional experiences (i.e., emotion recognition) and understand the functions served by different emotions (i.e., emotion knowledge) may be better suited to manage others’ emotion in instrumental ways that enable employees to adapt to the requirements of a situation. For instance, as opposed to simply increasing positive affective states in employees, managers may need to modify or enhance specific positive (e.g., interest) or negative (e.g., guilt) discrete emotions on the basis that such emotions can facilitate constructive behavioral and motivational actions. Particularly as individual employees may react to the same emotion-laden workplace event or HRM practice differently, managing employee emotion in instrumental ways appears to be crucial.

Limitations and Opportunities for Research

A number of limitations, challenges and research opportunities became apparent in linking the research on discrete emotions and HR systems. In terms of limitations, there are several. First, the nature of our discussion on discrete emotions and HRM is necessarily limited given the vast research on emotions and HRM systems and practices. Accordingly, this review serves more as an illustrative purpose for highlighting the dynamics between work-relevant discrete emotions and HR practices. Second, while we adopted a functionalist perspective on emotion, there are other models and theories of emotions that could be applied to learn more about the relationship of emotions and HR practices. For example, physiological approaches (Davidson, 2000) could be useful for studying the range and variability in emotional intensity and activation levels in different types of HR interactions and exchanges. Third, this review only covered five categories of HR practices. Emotions have implications for many others such as recruitment, job design, and team-based work. There are also significant variations in the specific practices covered in particular HR categories and we have only covered these selectively. Finally, we only examined four discrete emotions. Many other specific emotions (anger, disgust, hope, etc.) exert influences in HR domains and practices.

A number of challenges and opportunities for new research on discrete emotions in HR context exist. Emotional states and experiences are complex. While this review focused on one emotion at a time, the realities of everyday emotional experience in organizations potentially involves the experience of multiple emotions in short periods of time, mixed or blended emotions in response to events associated with uncertainty or employee ambivalence, and different emotions from different individual facing the same HR contexts and situations, and changes in emotion over time. Investigating person-situation interactions to identify patterns of individual differences associated with situational triggers of emotions commonly found in HR practices is an area in need of further study. Emotions occur at multiple levels within various HR practice settings (Ashkanasy et al., 2017). The reciprocal influences of emotions and emotion regulation in dyadic or interpersonal interactions in particular have only recently begun to be empirically tested. This dyadic influence process is difficult to study in organizations. Some progress has been made in contexts such as negotiation (e.g., Van Kleef et al., 2006) and interpersonal emotion regulation (e.g., Zaki & Williams, 2013) but more research focusing on discrete emotions is needed.

Additionally, the methods used to assess emotional experiences in organizations are still somewhat limited (Gooty et al., 2010). Diary methods offer a rich look at emotional experiences and are capable of examining emotion over time, but they may miss some of the momentary daily fluctuations in emotions that are better captured through experience sampling methods. Longitudinal approaches incorporating both methods could advance research on discrete emotions. Many trait and state emotions are still largely assessed using self-report adjective ratings such as those found in the PANAS (Watson, Clark, & Tellegen, 1988) capturing a relatively limited type of information regarding frequency of emotions experienced within a specified time period. Research is needed to develop and validate alternative measures for capturing emotion variability and intensity for discrete emotions.


Different types of HR systems have evolved to serve different organizational purposes. Whether organizations adopt a high-performance orientation, a service focus, control, safety or other focus, these strategic orientations drive the nature of HR practices in ability, motivation, and opportunities to contribute domains. Furthermore, these orientations exert influence on the emotional landscape of organizations and their employees. We have discussed the potential utility and drawbacks of pride, interest, fear and guilt in a range of HR functions with the aim of bringing new awareness of the roles that discrete emotions play for managers, employees, and HR systems as a whole. The topic of discrete emotions is gaining interest and traction in organizational research, and we hope this stimulates new ideas and research regarding their role in HRM contexts.


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