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Emotions and Attitudes in Workplace

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Case Study

Emotions in the workplace

Understanding employees’ emotions and attitudes is central to managing effectively. Employees’ emotions and attitudes aren’t completely within a manager’s control, but they aren’t completely outside of it either. The information in this exercise will help you better understand emotions and attitudes. You’ll first read about a small business whose success and failure depended heavily on emotions and attitudes. Then you’ll answer a series of questions to sharpen your understanding. As you go through the exercise, think about your own emotions and attitudes, and see if you can identify in yourself the concepts that are discussed.

Emotions and attitudes influence almost everything we do at work. Emotions are experiences, whereas attitudes represent judgments. Emotions and attitudes work parallel to one another to affect employees’ behaviors. However, the components of employees’ attitudes aren’t always consistent with one another, and sometimes attitudes contradict emotions. This prompts a change to restore consistency. Personality characteristics are related to experienced emotions, but the actual work situation likely has a stronger effect on attitudes and behavior.

Case Study 

When four friends working at the same organization decided to form a small consulting firm, the potential for success seemed unlimited. Each of the four was highly intelligent, motivated, and brought a unique and valuable set of skills to the team. A fifth member from outside the organization was added to help with the business side of the company, since none of the four had ever tried to start a small business before. The five partners enjoyed working together and were excited to forge ahead.

The idea for the consulting firm belonged to Sam. He envisioned offering clients a valuable service not available anywhere else in the greater metropolitan area. Greg, Jim, Sarah, and Alex helped Sam develop the business plan and began preparing the resources needed to operate. Once the basic groundwork was laid, the five partners formalized their company by filing a limited liability corporation (LLC) application with the state. Greg’s uncle generously loaned the fledgling firm enough money to upgrade some office space, buy some basic furniture and computer equipment, and begin paying the rent on the two-year lease Sam had signed. 

It took the partners longer than expected to be ready to open the door for business, partly because each was still employed full-time at the other organization and partly because of some thorny issues that had come up along the way. Perhaps the most difficult of these was the question of how to divide up future profits. Greg, Jim, Sarah, and Alex had always assumed that profits would be divided up equally among the partners, although this agreement had never been formalized in writing. Sam believed that since it was his idea to start the firm, that he should receive a larger share.

Sam expressed his view of him deserving a larger share of the profits about six months after the partners had been working together, but before the business was ready to open. After a lengthy discussion, Sam backed down and agreed that an equal split of the profits would probably be better. But, about a month later he raised the issue again. This time the discussion was even longer, but it ended as Sam set aside his view and again went with the group decision. To everyone’s surprise, almost on the eve of opening the doors to the first customer, Sam brought up the point again. This time, however, he refused to back down.

Without an agreement on how the partners would share profits, the business stalled. All of the partners recognized that bringing in a paying customer would be unwise until this issue was settled. And so, the discussion began again as to how to divide up the money. Sam refused to consider anything other than his own view on the matter, and Greg, Jim, and Alex were equally convinced that they were right. Sarah seemed caught in the middle, acknowledging that Sam’s idea to form the business had started it all, but realizing that the firm was only a reality because of equally hard work of all the partners.

The debate dragged on for weeks, sometimes in cordial but emotionally charged face-to-face meetings, and sometimes in outright nasty email exchanges. Meanwhile, the loaned money ran out and the partners began paying expenses out of their own pockets. The longer the debate raged, the more it seemed emotions dominated the discussions. At one point, Greg, Jim, and Alex made what they felt was a huge concession to Sam by promising him a greater proportion of the profits for the first five years of operations. They were dumbfounded when Sam refused. He wanted the greater increment to be permanent.

At that point, Greg, Jim, and Alex began reconsidering their involvement in the business. About the same time, each came to the others to regretfully announce their leaving the venture. Sarah remained undecided. She was keenly interested and truly enjoyed the business itself but couldn’t see how it would work with just her and Sam running it. Sam remained defiant. To everyone else, it was obvious the endeavor was finished. But when it came time to dividing up the expenses the partners had paid out of pocket, Sam refused to pay his share. He stated it was the other partners, not he, who had broken up the business, so they could pay for the failure. Unlike the others, he was committed to seeing it through. Sam stubbornly made a go of it on his own for another few months until he was forced to close shop, deep in debt, never having served a single customer.

Question 1

Sam’s conscious, logical reasoning that he should be paid a larger proportion of the profits than the other partners because it was his idea to start the business reflects a(n) attitude. Explain the difference between attitudes and moods and how these emotions (based on the case study) influenced the outcome? (200-250 words)

Question 2

The anger Jim would feel when discussing profit sharing with Sam is an example of a(n) emotion. Explain and describe the impact of negative emotions using the case example to guide you. How did the emotions involved impact the business? (200-250 words)

Question 3

Based on his experience, Greg had an established perception that sharing profits unevenly would be unfair. What component of Greg’s attitude toward dividing profits does this represent? How does it impact the business? (200-250 words)

Question 4

Sarah’s dilemma between her enjoyment of the business and her thoughts about trying to run it with Sam represents a disagreement between her emotions and cognitions. Describe and explain the incongruence and how it impacts the business in this case study? (200-250 words)

Question 5

If you were a business psychology consultant examining this case, based on your learnings across the course, how might you approach a situation differently? What method, theory or approach would you take? (200-250 words)

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