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How Do Emotions Affect Performance?

Updated: Jul 4

Performance is directly linked to emotion. Everything we do is intended to satisfy our emotions, whether to make us happy, feel satisfied, or help others, which may also give us satisfaction or fulfilment as well. Emotions significantly impact work performance positively and negatively through various biological and psychological mechanisms. Understanding these effects can help manage workplace environments and improve productivity, happiness, and performance.


High-performing executives who can respond well to a variety of emotions they may encounter in their working lives will outperform their competitors. Here is an overview of how to do it and some self-coaching tips to help you.


The Positive Effects Of Emotions


1. Enhanced Productivity: Positive emotions such as trust and anticipation can significantly boost team productivity. Teams that experience high levels of positive emotions tend to complete tasks more efficiently. Positive emotions enhance motivation, creativity, and collaboration among team members, leading to better problem-solving and innovation,​ as you can see from this research looking at positive emotions in the workplace 


2. Improved Engagement: Employees who frequently experience positive emotions are generally more engaged in their work. Engagement leads to higher job satisfaction, lower turnover rates, and better overall performance. Positive emotional states are linked to higher levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which enhance mood and cognitive function.


3. Short-Term, Moderate Positive Stress can increase the speed at which our brain functions, increase our actions towards our goals, and help us perform faster. A short adrenaline rush can help us perform better as seen here. It was also seen that reframing stress positively can increase learning in this study in 2018. The caveat is that we must be careful not to induce high stress levels or, even worse, prolong this, which can lead to adverse performance.


The Negative Effects Of Emotions

1. Decreased Productivity: Negative emotions at high levels over a sustained period, such as anger, fear, and frustration, can significantly impair productivity, especially when prolonged. Teams experiencing high levels and prolonged periods of negative emotions tend to have longer task completion times and lower overall performance. Lower psychological safety due to negative emotions can reduce innovation and increase groupthink, impairing an organisation’s ability to move forward. These negative emotions can lead to conflicts, reduced cooperation, and increased errors due to impaired cognitive functions. Also, increased absenteeism and presenteeism (lower performance when present at work) as seen in this study.


2. Stress and Health Issues: Chronic exposure to prolonged negative emotions at work can increase stress levels, which have various biological repercussions. High stress activates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, leading to elevated cortisol levels. This can impair cognitive functions like memory and attention, reduce immune function, and increase the risk of mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.


Biological Mechanisms

Neurotransmitter Regulation Affects Emotions: Positive emotions increase the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, which enhance mood and cognitive function. Negative emotions can increase stress hormone levels like cortisol, impairing cognitive functions and overall health.


Brain Activity: Emotional responses are influenced by the amygdala, the brain’s emotional centre. This part of the brain recognises facial expressions and has some control over emotional processing. This is a bidirectional relationship, as excess stress or chronic fear can affect the structure of the amygdala, which can further exacerbate fear and anxiety, reducing performance. Positive stimuli will have the opposite effect, enhancing calm but still allowing maintenance of performance where motivation is high. 


The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain responsible for planning, problem-solving and other executive functions. High-impact, sustained stress can reduce the functionality of this part of the brain, while mindfulness and being calm will improve cognitive functioning. 


The hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning. Positive emotions activate brain areas associated with reward and motivation, encouraging higher performance, while sustained negative emotions can lead to heightened activity in regions associated with stress and fear responses, impairing decision-making and problem-solving abilities.


Self-Coaching For Higher Performance

As a leader and team member, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How am I responding emotionally?

  • Do I want to change this?

  • Am I projecting this to my teams/ other team members?

  • How will this affect me, my team, and other team members? Is this effect going to be positive or negative?

  • Is this response the best way to motivate myself/ others around me/ my teams?

  • Is creating a stress response for me and/or my team members the best way to motivate people and inspire action?

  • Is there another way to move forward which might be more effective?

  • What is the best way to respond to everyone involved, and how can I facilitate this?

  • What do I need to do to feel differently right now?

  • How will this affect my health/ professional performance if I do not change my emotions?

  • How will this affect my health/ professional performance if I do change my emotions?


Conclusion


Balancing emotions in the workplace is crucial for maintaining high performance and your own and employee well-being. A positive emotional culture can improve engagement, productivity, and overall job satisfaction. On the other hand, managing and mitigating negative emotions is essential to prevent stress-related health issues and ensure a harmonious work environment.​


Caroline Langston is the Co-Founder of Successful Consultants Ltd, an Executive, Personal and Career Development Coaching company in Hong Kong and New York. Caroline is dedicated to coaching people for performance success, wellness and happiness in their careers and lives. She is degree-qualified and is currently studying with King’s College London for an MSc in Psychology and Neuroscience of Mental Health. With a Certificate in Professional Coaching Mastery, she is also a Professional Certified Accredited Coach (International Coaching Federation), has a Certificate in Team Coaching from the EMCC and further certifications in Neuro Linguistic Programming at Master Practitioner and Coach level. www.successCL.com  

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