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Releasing the Pressure Valve: Workplace Relationships and Engagement in a Context of Disruption

Ann Parkinson (University of Reading, UK)

Emotions During Times of Disruption

ISBN: 978-1-80382-838-1, eISBN: 978-1-80382-837-4

Publication date: 20 January 2023



I aim to understand how informal relationships at work provide a supportive context for individuals and contribute to their engagement in an environment of disruptive change when they are likely to be stressed.


The research was conducted in three UK public service organizations during pre-Brexit disruption. An app was used to capture 400+ transient emotions, reactions, and diary entries of employees about their interactions with co-workers, colleagues, and close colleagues. This was followed by 25 interviews to reflect more deeply on those relationships documented in the app.


Interactions with co-workers, colleagues, and close colleagues are shown to contribute in different ways to emotions felt and different aspects of engagement. Closer relationships, less transactional and more emotional in nature, contribute to feelings of trust, significance, and mutual reliance. A typology of four close colleague relationship types also emerged variously driven by the depth of the relationship and sense of shared mutuality.


This research documents employees' lived experience during disruption to show that relationships provide support for the meaningfulness, psychological safety, and availability aspects of personal engagement. It maps the process of developing supportive workplace relationships that form the relational context with four sub-contexts, distinguishing work, and personal engagement by their different foci. Practical and social implications are discussed.




I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their helpful developmental comments and suggestions during the review process for this chapter and for Emonet XII: The Twelfth International Conference on Emotions and Worklife, online, July 2020, where an earlier version of this chapter was presented.


Parkinson, A. (2023), "Releasing the Pressure Valve: Workplace Relationships and Engagement in a Context of Disruption", Troth, A.C., Ashkanasy, N.M. and Humphrey, R.H. (Ed.) Emotions During Times of Disruption (Research on Emotion in Organizations, Vol. 18), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 61-91.



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