Sigal Barsade, 56, dies; Maintained that it was okay to show emotions at work


Sigal Barsade, whose studies of organizational culture have charted the internal dynamics of the American workplace as precisely as any episode of “The Office,” and who has advised countless companies on how to embrace and nurturing the emotional well-being of their employees, passed away on February 29. 6 at her home in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. She was 56 years old.

Her husband, Jonathan Barsade, said the cause was a brain tumor.

Dr. Barsade, professor of management at the Wharton School, the business school at the University of Pennsylvania, pioneered what organizational psychologists call the affective revolution: the study of how emotions, and not just behavior and decision making, shape a workplace. culture, and how they affect an organization’s performance.

“For a long time, emotions were considered noise, a nuisance, something to be ignored,” she told the MIT Sloan Management Review in 2020. “But one thing we now know after more than a quarter of century of research is that emotions are not noise – rather they are data. They not only reveal how people feel, but also what they think and how they will behave.

In one study, she showed that emotions and moods are contagious – that we unconsciously mimic the expressions and behaviors of those around us. She gave groups of people a task to do together; Unbeknownst to the participants, she also tasked one person from each group with expressing a particular emotion – lean back and scow or lean forward and smile.

Those in the scowling group, she found, had a much harder time getting along, while those who sat smiling came to a consensus more quickly and with far less conflict.

In another study, conducted with Hakan Ozcelik of California State University, Sacramento, she asked 650 people about loneliness in the office and found that it had a significant impact on productivity – but also that even a single office friend could compensate for these negative impacts.

Dr. Barsade was not only one of the first to take an interest in the role of emotions within organizations; his studies were widely considered to be among the most rigorous and well-designed in his field.

“She was the epitome of a high quality scientist,” said Angela Duckworth, a psychologist and Dr. Barsade’s colleague at Wharton. “Everything she did was a gem.”

Dr. Barsade was an eloquent advocate of what she called companionship love: the blend of affection, compassion, and friendliness that she believed marked a healthy work culture. She has consulted with organizations such as Coca-Cola, Cisco and the National Football League on how to foster such an environment among their employees.

But she also cautioned that not all positive emotions are equally suited to all groups. A military unit, she said, would benefit more from a leader who emphasized pride and optimism rather than, say, joy and compassion. Negative emotions also had their place, she said, noting that anger was a strong indicator that something is wrong and needs to be resolved.

And not all work cultures are right for all workers, she argued, even if on paper their skills and experiences match those of their colleagues.

“What’s okay to express or suppress varies widely from place to place,” she told the Wall Street Journal in 2012. “Southwest Airlines is the culture of love where l You are expected to show positive emotions. American Airlines has a more restrained emotional culture. Being in the wrong place can have an emotional impact.

Part of what made Dr. Barsade so effective in opening up her profession to the study of emotions was that she practiced what she taught. A skilled and empathetic communicator on paper as well as in the classroom and lecture hall, she drew people to her, whether as students or colleagues, creating a network of scholars determined to further her ideas.

“I’ve been in the field for some time and had a strong belief that if we could only be less emotional the job would be better,” said Adam Grant, a colleague of Dr. Barsade at Wharton, in an interview. telephone. “And I don’t believe it anymore, because of her research and having taught with her for a dozen years.”

Sigal Goland was born on August 28, 1965 in Haifa, Israel. His father, Yakov Goland, was an engineer at Boeing; his mother, Nili (Yutan) Goland, was a software engineer. The family moved to Los Angeles when Sigal was 3 so Mr. Goland could attend graduate school at the California Institute of Technology, and she grew up in the Los Angeles area.

She graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1986 with a degree in psychology and later earned a doctorate in organizational behavior from the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. She taught at the Yale School of Management for a decade before coming to Wharton in 2003.

She married Mr. Barsade in 1986. She is survived by her parents; his brother, Yaron; his daughters, Sivahn and Maayan; and his son, Itai.

Doctors discovered Dr. Barsade’s tumor near the start of the pandemic. She nonetheless dug deeper into her work, realizing that with employees scattered across their homes, many of her areas of research, such as workplace loneliness, were suddenly more important than ever.

She helped companies devise ways to maintain a healthy emotional culture in a remote working world, and when vaccines began rolling out in early 2021, she helped lead a task force to persuade more people to get vaccinated.

“We spend a lot of time carefully creating knowledge that we test so that it is then applicable. The whole point of generating knowledge is to make it useful and practical,” she told the Daily Californian in 2021. “There’s no better use of our knowledge than this right now.


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