1/2015

Turn negative emotions into a positive force

Difficult feelings may be routinely swept under the carpet in the business world, but the power of frustration, disappointment and anger could be harnessed to improve employee motivation and performance and boost customer satisfaction.

Maiju Vuolle

 

”Negative emotions are not the same as negativity," says Postdoctoral Researcher Maiju Vuolle.

 

Negative emotions must be kept out of the workplace. The only way to achieve results and increase productivity is to maintain an unflinchingly positive attitude at work, right?

”That’s not true. Society puts pressure on us to stay cheerful at all times, but sometimes it’s impossible to prevent negative emotions from bubbling up inside, and trying to damp them down can be stressful,” claims Maiju Vuolle, postdoctoral researcher at the Novi Research Center in the Department of Information Management and Logistics.

”Negative emotions are not the same as negativity. People with a positive, constructive attitude will inevitably experience negative emotions from time to time. We can learn to deal with these emotions and turn them into positive energy,” she says.

New tools for Finnish companies

Vuolle is the Principal Investigator on one of the subprojects of the Business Value from Negative Emotions (NEMO) project. This multi-partner, cross-disciplinary project seeks to identify the untapped potential of negative and conflicting emotions in a business context.

The purpose of the project is to strengthen the competitiveness of Finnish companies. To this end, the partners are developing tools that help companies improve the customer experience, adopt new business models, grow and create an atmosphere where employees feel comfortable.

The project partners include TUT, Turku University of Applied Sciences and Turku School of Economics. The subproject carried out at Turku University of Applied Sciences aims to understand how negative emotions ripple through social media. Researchers at Turku School of Economics are looking for new ways of transforming customers’ negative emotions into new business opportunities, and TUT’s role is to investigate how negative and conflicting emotions can be turned into intangible assets.

In addition, the NEMO project involves two dozen Finnish companies operating in the consumer and business markets, the services sector and the manufacturing industry.

Turn difficult customer encounters into learning experiences

Researchers at TUT are also collaborating with the software company Intopalo and the Confederation of Finnish Construction Industries RT.

”We’ve joined forces with Intopalo to examine the role of negative emotions from the perspective of creative knowledge workers. We want to find out how occasional feelings of stress and frustration can be turned into something positive, such as a source of motivation, new solutions or learning experiences. We’ve developed and tested indicators with Intopalo’s employees that enable them to monitor their emotional state and see how it affects their professional performance,” Vuolle describes.

With the Confederation of Finnish Construction Industries RT, the researchers are exploring strategies for handling difficult customer situations in the construction industry.

“We’re trying to identify the best practices for dealing with unhappy customers. The insights will be collected in a book, written in story format, which we are planning to publish later this year. The book will be aimed at the entire construction sector.”

Launched in 2014, the two-year NEMO project is funded under the Feelings Programme of the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation Tekes. The project has received 600,000 euros from Tekes.

Negative emotions send an important message

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“We challenge the traditional view that emotions are distractions that must be weeded out of the workplace, lest they slow down the speeding train that is a company. This old view likens people to machine parts, and machine parts don’t squeak,” Intopalo’s CEO Juha Latvala says.

The 20-strong company was established in 2012. Intopalo offers R&D services for international product development companies, whose products are powered by embedded software, cloud services and mobile solutions.

“We don’t expect our employees to suppress their negative emotions, because we believe that they’re a sign that we need do something differently. Tools for managing negative emotions are integrated into our company culture,” Latvala says.

Keeping track of emotions

Intopalo’s employees have the opportunity to monitor changes in their energy levels and motivation by filling in a daily survey. In weekly meetings they go around a circle, with each employee sharing where they are on the motivation scale.

“The instrument for measuring emotions and motivation, which is being developed as part of the NEMO project, promotes the continuous development of our work environment. It will provide us with information that we can use to support internal decision-making and work processes, recruitment and the sharing of knowledge.”

In the software industry, effective companies may be ten times more productive than their less successful counterparts. According to Latvala, the secret to increased productivity does not arise from enforcing positive attitudes. Employees are more likely to achieve results and feel that their work is meaningful, if they have the freedom to venture outside of their comfort zone and display emotions that are usually labelled as negative.

“If the work environment allows employees to express the full spectrum of their emotions, feelings of frustration and annoyance can lead to a revelation: ‘No, now we’re going to try this!’ This brings added valued to our customers.”

 

Text: Leena Koskenlaakso
Photo: Mika Kanerva and Virpi Andersin

 
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