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      Changes in workplace practices during the COVID-19 pandemic: the roles of emotion, psychological safety and organisation support

      Journal of Organizational Effectiveness: People and Performance
      Emerald

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          Abstract

          Purpose

          The purpose of the study is to investigate the psychological safety, organisation support and emotion in the workplace during the transition from office to home working during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. Past studies on emotion in the workplace mostly focus on types of discreet emotion, in relation to positive and negative emotions (e.g. Connelly and Torrence, 2018; Rubino et al., 2013). Other studies reported that emotions are derived from social comparison processes (Matta and Dyne, 2020). During a crisis, the emotional responses of the workers and organisational support to the different group of employees differ due to the social exchange relationship. Hence, this study contributes to the field of organisational support by examining the organisational support as the investment of both physical and psychological resources, and the emotional responses of employees to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis during transition from office to work-from-home setting. Through thick descriptions of the workers' emotion responses to this transition, the research examined how organisational support potentially impacts the worker's experience of psychological safety.

          Design/methodology/approach

          The study was conducted in the Singapore context. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Singapore Government imposed regulatory restrictions, the “Circuit Breaker” from April 7 2020 to curb the spread of the virus infections. Most workplaces from the public service agencies to the private enterprises implemented work from home arrangements for most of the employees. The data were generated from an online survey that included self-reported text-based narratives in response to open-ended questions. Open-ended questions effectively allowed respondents to define the real-world situation in their perspectives. Salaried workers from both the public and private organisations were invited to take part in this research. Respondents comprise full-time, part-time and contracted employees from the diverse sectors. The final sample size of 131 respondents was used. A qualitative data analysis was employed to gain deeper insight into the workers' emotional reactions, including their personal experiences of organisational support and psychological safety, during the transition from office to work from home setting.

          Findings

          The qualitative examination, through thematic coding, reveals the phenomenon of emotion triggered by social comparison emotion and critical socio-emotional resources (i.e. task, flexibility, communication, health and safety and social support) during a health crisis. Specifically, the employees' emotional reactions were elicited from the perceived organisational support, in how organisation cares for their well-being and work contributions and, in turn, influence the psychological safety. For example, the approach of the online communication (as a form of organisation support) practised by the managers has implications on the different levels of psychological safety experienced by the employee. In addition, emotional resources can be interpreted as organisation support. The findings revealed that emotions such as anxiety, stress, unfairness, inferiority and vulnerability are triggered by perceived inequity and comparison with the decisions or resources of the referent others of higher level such as the management (upward social comparison emotion). On the other hand, the emotions of pride, empathy, shared goals and support are generated by the care, collective interest and comparison of the referent others of lower level such as the subordinate (downward social comparison emotion). This study adds theoretical depth to the phenomenon of socio-emotional resources and the implications of psychological safety and organisational support of different work groups in the organisation.

          Practical implications

          The practical implications contribute to human resource management practices to understanding the socio-emotional resources of the core and periphery groups. It is imperative for organisation to exercise equity in the allocation of resources and treatment between different groups (core and periphery). The implications of this study show the phenomenon of emotional responses arise from comparison within groups linking with perceived fairness. The managerial decisions and supervisor management style are key factors in promoting healthy emotion and psychological safety. Management style such as micromanagement and control were not favourable among employees, and autonomy, trust and empathy resonate with employees. During a crisis and major workplace changes, demonstrating employee care through feedback, timely and specific information sharing and participatory form of communication contribute to the positive perception of procedural and interactional fairness. In the initial phase of workplace change amid crisis, some element of control is inevitable. Supervisor support may come in the form of open communication in conveying the rationale for the need to exercise control in one process and flexibility may be accorded in another task. The empowerment of workplace decisions, open communication in shared goals and assurance and trust are critical in enhancing a high psychological safety.

          Originality/value

          This study examines the roles of emotion, psychological safety and organisational support among different groups of workers (full-time, part-time and contracted employees) in the context of COVID-19 pandemic. There has been scant study in examining the core and periphery groups relating to these research topics. The findings in this study reveal the phenomenon of emotions triggered by social comparison during the workplace changes and the display of different socio-emotional resources within groups. This qualitative research supported the past studies that autonomy in decision-making, supervisor support, employee care and trust affect psychological safety.

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          Most cited references116

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          Using thematic analysis in psychology

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            NOT SO DIFFERENT AFTER ALL: A CROSS-DISCIPLINE VIEW OF TRUST.

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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Journal of Organizational Effectiveness: People and Performance
                JOEPP
                Emerald
                2051-6614
                February 09 2021
                March 15 2021
                February 09 2021
                March 15 2021
                : 8
                : 1
                : 97-128
                Article
                10.1108/JOEPP-06-2020-0104
                de3650f5-fe5c-4c89-98f8-b504c011a697
                © 2021

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