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Meet the editor of... Research on Emotion in Organizations

An interview with: Margaret Adolphus
Interview by: Professor Neal M. Ashkanasy

Options:     PDF Version - Meet the editor of... Research on Emotion in Organizations  Print view

Photo: Professor Neal AshkanasyProfessor Neal Ashkanasy, series editor of Research on Emotion in Organizations, is professor of management at UQ Business School, the University of Queensland, Australia. He obtained his PhD from that university in social/organizational psychology, for research on factors affecting relationships between organizational supervisors and their subordinates.

His current main interest lies in the area of emotions at work, although he continues to research other aspects of organizational behaviour, such as leadership, organizational culture, and ethics. He is also the editor-in-chief of Journal of Organizational Behavior (Wiley Interscience) and associate editor of Emotion Review (Sage).

About the book series

Research on Emotion in Organizations is a major annual book series publishing empirical and conceptual contributions in an area which, having been ignored for much of the previous century, is currently generating a torrent of new research. The series covers all aspects of affect and emotion in organizations, and its contributors include both leading scholars and rising stars.

General background

What do you mean by the term "emotion"?

That's a good question. Emotion has to do with the non-cognitive components of the brain, the limbic system. It's the way that your body reacts to the environment in a more or less uncontrollable way. For example, if you see something funny, there might be some sort of appraisal that makes you think maybe you should laugh, but the idea is that the laughing happens all by itself. The important thing about emotion is that it has a very close connection to cognitive processes, and we spend a lot of our time regulating our emotions in order to try to present a rational face to the world.

What is the mission of Research on Emotion in Organizations?

To reach out to everyone working in the organization sciences who is interested in the role that emotion plays in organizational behaviour. And as emotion is an important part not only of daily life, but also of how people relate to one another in organizations, it should be on the agenda of anyone interested in how organizations and their members behave.

What is the history of the series?

It all started with Emonet, the Emotions in Organizations Network e-mail discussion list, which was established in January 1997, following a symposium at the 1996 Academy of Management Conference in Cincinnati. The list has retained its close association with the Academy of Management and is very active, with 1,100 members, who can expect to receive at least one post a day and sometimes many more.

Now Emonet drives everything: how we market the book series and the conference, and how we communicate with our members. We decided to hold a conference almost straight away – The First International Conference on Emotion and Worklife, or Emonet I – was held in San Diego in 1998, just before the Academy of Management Conference. Our first book in the series, Emotions in the Workplace: Theory, Research and Practice, which featured a selection of papers from that conference as well as some invited ones, was published in 2000 by Quorum Books.

We decided that the conference would be biennial and, after the second conference in Toronto, we published our second book with M.E. Sharpe in New York, which had a very practical focus, and was called Managing Emotions in the Workplace. Our third book was Emotions in Organizational Behaviour, and was published by Lawrence Erlbaum in 2005.

At this stage, we were getting a little tired of having to find a publisher each time we had a conference, so we agreed with Elsevier Science to publish an annual series. That was eventually sold to Emerald along with other titles.

So, the idea is that we publish one volume a year, with a themed selection of papers presented at the Emonet Conference, plus some invited papers, and also a few from other conferences.

Who are its key audiences?

Essentially it's a scholarly and academic series. Nonetheless, through the Emonet list we have quite a group of consultants, and even some chief executive officers (CEOs), who are interested in what we do. And we see quite a few of them at the biennial conference, people who are interested in the practical applications of the research and think seriously about how they can get the message across to their organizations.

You claim that the area of emotions in the workplace is rapidly gaining wide recognition in organizational research. Why is this?

I don't think it's so much gaining as gained acceptance. When we started out, one of my high profile colleagues, Dr Sigal Barsade, would talk about going into organizations as a consultant where the CEOs would tell her:

"We don't do emotions in our organization, and anybody who thinks that they can bring emotions into the workplace will be out very quickly. And I feel very strongly about that!"

But now things have changed, which I think has a lot to do with the theory of emotional intelligence (EI). Whatever you think of EI, it has become a hugely popular idea. Also the slow realization that we have to deal with our emotions on a day-by-day basis has made a difference as well.

There's a remarkable book on emotions, titled Descartes' Error, authored by Antonio Damasio (who is now at the University of Southern California) published in 1995, in which the author describes a patient whom he calls Elliot. Elliot has an IQ of 140 but is totally incapable of making a decision. The only thing that's wrong with him is that he has an injury to his brain which prevents him from experiencing emotions. So although he's super smart, because he can't access his own emotions, Elliot cannot make even simple decisions; he can't live a normal life and is on welfare.

And so, none of us can make emotion-free decisions: it's a psychological fact that our decision making is tied in with our bodily feelings (which Damasio calls "somatic states"). We make an entirely different set of decisions depending on whether we're in a good or a bad mood, or whether we are feeling sad or angry. And this applies to every facet of organizations; not just organizational behaviour, but also to strategic decision making.

So, there's a growing realization that rationality does not mean disposing of our emotions. And academic research is backing that up. Take for example the research done by Carnegie Mellon's Professor George Lowenstein into behavioural economics, which shows that economic decision making without an emotional dimension is just plain wrong.

So do you think that this scholarly research may permeate through to practice and create a healthier workplace environment?

Well I'm actually one of these people who believes that ultimately what we do in scholarship does make its way through to everyday functioning at the organizational level. Yes, it may be true that CEOs don't read scholarly articles, but it does get turned into practical information by the consultants who do pay attention to scholarly literature, and by the popular books which sometimes contain a grain of scientific information. So, little by little, the story gets out. And most of the organizations I deal with today are becoming aware that you can't any more just forget your emotions.

And interestingly enough, it appears that it's actually hard work putting emotions to the side. There's work by Roy Baumeister in Florida State University's Department of Psychology that has shown that regulating your emotions is physically exhausting. Professor Baumeister gets people to squeeze a small object and measures the strength and length of the squeeze, and people who are forced to regulate their emotions have less strength in their hands and can't squeeze as strongly. So they are actually physically drained.

Why is Research on Emotion in Organizations published as a book series rather than a journal?

We made an early decision that we would have themed volumes, even if the theme is fairly broad, which would have meant, if we had published as a journal, that each issue would have been a special issue. That's not really a practical publishing model, so publishing as a book gave us complete control of the contents: we can have a beginning and an end and, in the middle, 12 to 15 chapters which we can select from conference papers or from the other sources I mentioned.


How closely do you plan the Conference and the book?

We haven't tended to plan that closely, we just simply call for papers for the conference and see how they land. It's a grass roots approach, seeing what turns up rather than dictating from above. Our conference this year, Emonet VIII is scheduled for July in Helsinki, Finland, just before the EGOS conference. Then it will be 2014, location to be announced! See http://www.emotionsnet.org/ for more information.

Roughly how long are the chapters, on average?

We tell people submitting to the conference that they should follow the guidelines of the Academy of Management, so manuscripts should not normally be more than 40 pages. This means that we have synergy with the Academy and can dip into its conference programme for more chapters. It's a similar length to what I would expect for the Journal of Organizational Behavior which I edit, so in that sense, the chapters are very similar to journal articles.

What sort of research techniques are used to study emotion in organizations?

We run the whole gamut: if you look at the book chapters, you will find a huge range of different methods, from ethnographies to laboratory experiments. One important characteristic of emotions in the workplace is that they fluctuate. So we often study emotional variations within individuals over time, using diary studies or "experienced sampling", where people enter survey data in real time using personal digital assistants or, more recently, short message services. These are currently popular approaches, but it's also possible to use questionnaires to measure emotional intelligence, and such things as affective commitment and job satisfaction. Researchers of emotion also often look at their data in a much more holistic way, such as by conducting interviews and using more interpretive and inductive approaches.

Many of your chapters are conceptual analysis, drawing on existing studies to formulate models and to theorize. What sort of a balance do you seek between empirical research and theory building?

Here again we take the lead from the Academy of Management and from the management discipline in general: both are strong on the development of conceptual ideas. I think we have approximately a 50/50 mixture of conceptual papers and the empirical reports.

Can you say a bit about the next volume in the series

Volume 8 is coming out this year [2012], Experiencing and Managing Emotions in the Workplace. This volume contains a selection of the best papers presented at the Seventh Emonet conference (Montreal, Canada, August 2010), following on from Volume 7 and augmented once again with invited chapters authored by leading scholars in the field. "Experiencing and managing emotions in the workplace" comprises fourteen chapters arranged in four sections: The experience of emotion; The dynamics of emotion; Regulating emotion; and The emotionally intelligent organization. These encompass a variety of methodological approaches, including qualitative and quantitative research, sourced from research conducted in organizations in the USA, Europe, and Australasia. The volume's secondary theme is "care and compassion", the theme of the Academy of Management meetings that followed the Emonet conference in Montreal. In effect, organizations that understand their members' emotions and utilize this information in their management practices become "emotionally intelligent" and capable of showing care and compassion to all stakeholders. The chapters in this book provide a rich and varied coverage of the latest developments in the study of the role of emotions in organizational settings.

The publishing process

What is the process of review, and how does it compare with that for peer reviewed journals?

The first stage of the review process occurs when papers are submitted to either the Emonet or the Academy of Management Conference, both of which are fully peer reviewed with three reviews. Stage 2 is actually presenting at the Conference and getting some additional feedback from delegates.

Stage 3 is when the three editors, Wilfred Zerbe, Charmine Härtel and I give additional feedback in response to a draft received around November. We turn things around quickly and would expect to receive a final draft by February ready for July publication.

How long does the whole process take, from first idea to publication?

From the gleam in the eye to the actual birth, it's two or three years, two for the first volume to come out of the Conference and three for the second.

Does this length of time deter people who might not want to wait so long to publish their research?

Not in organizational sciences, where three years is pretty much the norm even for a journal. They will have presented at a conference so people can find the work through the metadata provided for the conference proceedings.

How do chapters rate in terms of the Research Assessment Exercise, the Research Excellence Framework, and their equivalents in other countries?

Not very well, because most schools put such a premium on refereed journal articles. However, I tend to feel that publishing in a book is better than publishing in a really low profile journal. An early career researcher who gets published in our book will find him or herself in the company of high profile scholars whose contributions have been specially invited, and under the editorship of people who are well known in the field. That would not happen if they were to publish in a low profile journal.

Another point is that scholarship encompasses a whole range of activities, not just refereed journal articles: presenting your work at conferences is also important as is contributing to books. A well-rounded scholar will publish in a range of different media.

One of the advantages of this series is that the chapters are available through the Emerald database, and so can be downloaded. And Thomson Reuters has a conference proceedings citation index, which can be accessed via its website.

Research on Emotion in Organizations is also published as an e-book. Do you think this represents an advantage for scholars, if so why?

The main point here is that it's an e-world, and none of us work with hard copy any more. The real power of electronic media is that you can type keywords into a search engine such as Bing or Google and see what it comes up with. For example, I could type in "the effect of emotions on CEOs' strategic decision making", and the search would come up with all the articles in the cyberworld that addressed that particular topic. And the real advantage of Emerald is that everything it publishes is available electronically, so can be subjected to this search process.

It feels right to publish as an e-book rather than an e-journal; if it was a journal it would inevitably end up as a low level specialist publication, rather than a book which can be clearly targeted, and have distinguished contributors. So, we have the best of both worlds; we have high profile invited authors and we have the search and retrieval power of the electronic medium.

Editor's note

Margaret Adolphus interviewed Professor Neal Ashkanasy in July 2009.

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