What is emotional agency?

Emotional agency as a concept is certainly unknown to many and no wonder – the concept has only recently emerged in research. Emotional agency is an important topic that affects us all – where there are people, there are also emotions, and emotional agency says something about how to deal with those emotions.

TUNTO research project – Emotional agency in organizational change

During the TUNTO project (2018-2020) funded by the Finnish Work Environment Fund, researchers at the University of Jyväskylä monitored what kind of changes Emergy’s development programs on emotional skills brought about in organizations. But they felt like traditional measures of emotional skills or emotional intelligence all lacked something: a social point of view that takes into account both the effects of the social environment on emotionally intelligent behavior as well as sees individuals as active agents that make choices about their own actions. It isn’t enough that people have the ability to act in an emotionally intelligent way, they also need to want to act in an emotionally intelligent way and be in a receptive environment that encourages such behavior instead of discouraging it.

Therefore, the researchers wanted to combine information from studies of professional agency and studies concerning emotional skills and emotions, which lead to the emergence of the concept of emotional agency. The definition of emotional agency is as follows: – “emotional agency is being aware of, understanding and taking into account emotions (one’s own and others) as well as influencing emotions in the organization’s practices, operations, and interactions”.

Traditionally, emotional skills/competence have been considered mainly as a characteristic of the individual (e.g. emotional intelligence). Emotional agency expands the competence related to emotions from individuals to the competence and functioning of the work community. It acknowledges the role of socio-cultural conditions at the workplace but sees individuals as subjects who can make choices about their own actions and behavior.

The TUNTO study assessed how emotional agency affects organizational change and how emotional agency can be developed and strengthened in the workplace. During the project, the researchers also developed a questionnaire for measuring emotional agency.

Emotional agency is emotion related awareness, competence, and behavior.

Emotional agency means that a person is aware of his own and other people’s emotions, knows how to recognize and process them, and knows how to influence emotions in workplace practices and interactions. By recognizing and dealing with one’s own and others’ emotions, one can better understand the reasons behind their own and others’ behavior, and be able to use these skills to their advantage in working life.

It is a scientific fact that our emotions affect everything we do and decide, how we act and work. Emotions are crucial to our performance; emotions directly affect what we do and its quality (how we do), quantity (how much we do) and direction (what our goal is).

Emotional agency is also directly connected to the organization’s emotional climate and work engagement. TUNTO study showed, that the better employees felt about their own emotional skills, and the more they said they were able to influence emotions at work, the better they felt the workplace’s emotional climate and the higher their work engagement/absorption was. A good emotional climate is diverse and rich, containing both positive and negative emotions – but it matters how we deal with these emotions.

Emotional agency can be divided into two different parts.

Emotional agency can be divided into two different parts – the emotional agency of individuals’ (one’s own emotional skills) and the emotional agency of the workplace (emotion related practices of the work environment).

Individuals’ emotional skills mean the ability to be aware of, identify, express, process, and influence one’s own as well as others emotions. It is all about the ability to be an active member in building the workplace atmosphere. Individuals’ emotional skills are the core of all emotionally competent behavior: all emotional competence and the emotional climate of the organization is built on individuals’ emotional skills.

The emotional agency of the workplace on the other hand is all about emotional environment: how emotional skills manifest at the workplace, how employees experience psychological safety at work, and how positive organizational practices are utilized. The focus is on how emotions are expressed, how emotions are taken into account, and how emotions are dealt with in the workplace. In this way, competence related to emotions affects and manifests itself in the practices of the workplace and in the interaction and activities between people.

Emotional agency is central to the emotional climate of teams and organizations.

Emotional agency affects team work, decision making, work engagement, organizational commitment, turnover intentions, and employee’s wellbeing. Each of us can learn to understand and process our own and others’ emotions and understand their effects on both ourselves and our environment. Each of us can also choose to take an active role in creating a good emotional climate and collaborate in creating a work environment that is receptive, nurturing, and that encourages personal growth and team work. Emotional agency is essential in every part of our lives, be it at work or at home. As we practice and become aware of the emotions around us, our awareness of the impact of emotions naturally increases. Emotions have a decisive influence on a person’s performance, also at the workplace. If this fact is ignored, a huge amount of human well-being and potential will be lost. By understanding emotions in working life, we increase employee engagement, commitment, and wellbeing.

 

Emotional Agency at Work: The Development and Validation of a Measure | Frontiers in Education (frontiersin.org)

Emotional competence at work | Journal of Organizational Change Management (Emerald Insight)

TUNTO – Emotions have an impact on the atmosphere in and results of a workplace (jyu.fi)

TUNTO2 – Emotional agency in strategy implementation | Aalto-University

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