Emotional Labour and the Burnout Syndrome

facial expressions


Emotional Labour

When we had the discussion on the topic of emotions and mood during class, what attracted my attention the most was the term emotional labour.

Emotional labour, defined as a situation in which an employee expresses organizationally desired emotions during interpersonal transactions at work, is a concept that emerged from studies of service jobs.

Some dilemmas with Emotional Labour:

1. Burnout

It has been found that doctors can lose their ability to care when suffering from emotional burnout (Persaud, 2004). Given that care is an integral part of a doctor’s job, losing care due to emotional labour or burnout will definitely thwart the expectations that a regular patient has of a doctor and this could lead to negative repercussions.

At the same time, burnout can also lead to dissatisfaction with quality of work completed and doubt about the effectiveness of the work.

2. Source of Job Satisfaction

Emotional labour can be a source of job satisfaction depending on whether employee is experiencing surface acting or deep acting as discussed during class. It is conceivable that if a person is deep acting, the emotional labour that he/she is experiencing would be rather rewarding. However, if a person is only surface acting, a great amount of stress could amount. Evidently, emotional labour could be a double-edged sword. Unfortunately, though, it has been found that, to a larger extent, people tend to surface act (Persaud, 2004).

Putting Emotional Labour and Burnout Syndrome together

I happen to chance upon this research paper that compared two perspectives of emotional labour as predictors of burnout beyond the effects of negative affectivity. I found the research rather interesting and meaningful hence I have decided to share the gist of the study.

Just a brief introduction about the burnout syndrome, as stated in the paper – The burnout syndrome entails three distinct states in which employees feel emotional exhaustion, depersonalization (display detached attitude toward others) and diminished personal accomplishment (experience low sense of efficacy at work) (Maslach & Jackson, 1986).

The study found that job-focused emotional labour (work demands regarding emotional expression) does not significantly predict the burnout rate of employees. This shows that personal accomplishment is a separate dimension of burnout, and is preceded by predictors that are dissimilar from those that predict emotional exhaustion and depersonalization.

However, it was found that employee-focused emotional labour (regulation of feelings and emotional expression) could predict the burnout rate of employees. It was found that surface acting indeed contributed to a diminished sense of personal accomplishment, whereas deep acting contributed to a greater sense of personal efficacy at work.

Interestingly, the study also found that employees in “people work” did not report significantly higher levels of emotional exhaustion than did respondents employed in other occupations.


These results, though intuitive, could have potential implications on how an organization would prevent its employees from burning out.

Given that employees in “people work” (e.g. service sectors) were not found to experience emotional exhaustion/burnout any more than employees from other industries, have we been (wrongly) putting too much emphasis on how the nature of a job leads to the possibility of burnout through the experiencing of emotional labour? I.e. consistently assuming that employees in the service industries experience much more emotional labour and hence should also experience a higher rate of burnout

Have we been overlooking the fact that employees do have the autonomy and choice to regulate their feelings and emotional expression in such a way that their chances of burning out are minimized?

To conclude, more research on both emotional labour and burnout rate would definitely be required for a deeper understanding on this topic. When these findings are replicated and more or less robust, then sending employees to workshops/courses that aid them in their regulation of feelings and emotional expressions could possibly be more helpful to the employees to reduce burnout as compared to brainstorming on how the nature of a job could be altered to reduce employees’ emotional labour and hence burnout rate.






Putting a Price on Praise – An inquiry into motivational factors

Pink and Ariely, while both giving engaging and enlightening presentations which differed so much in style – Pink’s confident, punctuating exclamations contrasting with Ariely’s deadpan humor – had the same core conclusion: Traditional methods of monetary rewards were not the key drivers of motivation. While this was in itself intriguing, a more practical question arose:

Does this imply that money has become less important as a tool for motivation? If so, could organizations benefit from the same amount of motivation and productivity by paying their employees less in monetary terms?

All that glitters is not gold

First, an examination of the idea that money has actually diminished in importance as a tool for motivation is required.

Pink claims that financial incentives only work when the task at hand encompasses a clear direction and goal, while requiring little or no cognitive process. In jobs involving uncertainty and independence to even a small degree, the three main factors which drove motivation were autonomy, mastery and purpose. These intrinsic factors were what caused high performance. Carrot-and-stick approaches, on the other hand, actually stifle creativity and may result in negative effects on performance.

Similarly, Ariely demonstrated through his two experiments that motivation depended primarily on constant progress and improvement in addition to finding a sense of purpose and meaning in the work. A sense of ownership or receiving recognition for the work would also cause one to value it more, and be more motivated to do put in additional effort.

How do the claims that these two presenters make compare with existing theories on motivation?

The Self-Determination Theory essentially covers the points that both have made. The proposition that people prefer to feel they have control over their actions coincides with Pink’s belief that autonomy is a crucial factor in motivating people. With an increase in extrinsic rewards, employees may tend to feel that they are doing well because of the organizations want, and not because of their own intrinsic desire to excel.

Similarly, Ariely’s Lego experiments demonstrated the idea of self-concordance. The alignment of intrinsic interests with the task at hand tends to produce better results simply because employees enjoy the process of striving towards their goals.

These theories seem to support the idea that financial rewards can be substituted to some extent by giving praise and recognition, autonomy, and the opportunity for constant improvement. In some cases, increasing monetary incentives may even be counterproductive.

Is cash still king?

On the other hand, money still has a fundamental role to play. Pink makes the concession that at the most basic level, financial incentives are still necessary for every job, and are likely to still play a significant part in motivating employees to work. Similarly, the oft-cited Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs lists physiological comforts as the most crucial , and money is a necessity for the attainment of these most basic of needs.

But what about at higher income levels? It appears that money increases in importance  together with its quantity according to Devoe, Pfeffer and Lee. Through their paper ‘When does money make money more important?’ , they concluded that, depending on the source of money, individuals could place a higher value on monetary rewards because they see it as a reward for a demonstration of competency and effort on their part.

This seems to run contrary to the idea that money is not an important motivational tool.

Furthermore, people are still most likely to utilize tangible financial rewards as a benchmark for comparison in both the Equity Theory and the Expectancy Theory. The Equity Theory cautions us about the loss of motivation amongst employees should there be a perceived lack of organizational justice, while the Expectancy Theory highlights the need for a reward that clearly links to the effort or performance on the part of the employee. The provision of autonomy, mastery, meaning and other intangibles are unlikely to be able to rectify discrepancies causing loss of motivation due to the aforementioned scenarios.

‘Praise is Free. Or is it?’ – Concluding thoughts

In light of the above discussion, I feel that our course materials in OB thus far have highlighted that monetary rewards  are likely to always be integral means of motivating employees. Because of its reflection of the value of an individual, it is not merely a transactional tool. It could be closely tied with social needs, esteem issues, and could even be important for self-actualization. The true value of money lies in its intangible, intrinsic worth.

To answer my own question, it is clear that to an extent at least, financial rewards can be substituted. I would be willing to take a pay cut if a job could offer me more autonomy, meaning, and resonate with my intrinsic values, and I am sure that many others would feel the same way. In addition, I would probably be more productive and bring more monetary value to an organization which meets these needs.

What would be truly intriguing (and probably impossible) would be to conduct a study to put a price these intangibles. Does autonomy boost the bottom line of the company? Are commendations a good substitute for monthly bonuses? Is praise truly free?

Can culture go too far?

In light of the heated discussion over the Heros of the Taj case, I was provoked to think about the extent of influence culture has over the lives of individuals. Culture has undeniably emerged as a potential contributor to organizational success. Take the success stories of Southwest Airlines and Disney for example, we see how healthy organizational culture can impact a myriad of outcomes; directing behavior, encouraging cooperation and the ability to innovate. However, do organizations know when and where to draw the line? When does the content or strength of that culture become overpowering?


This reflection came about after reading the recent Wall Street Journal Article- “Facebook’s Company Town”. While I support the organization’s desire to create and an environment that encourages innovation and stress relief, by providing even more perks for its employees, I fear that this development could be a double-edge sword, leading to potential failure.




mage of Facebook’s planned Anton Menlo Community Housing.


An excerpt from the journal states:

(Facebook) said this week it is working with a local developer to build a $120 million, 394-unit housing community within walking distance of its offices. Called Anton Menlo, the 630,000 square-foot rental property will include everything from a sports bar to a doggy day care.

The development conjures up memories of so-called “company towns” at the turn of the 20th century, where American factory workers lived in communities owned by their employer and were provided housing, health care, law enforcement, church and just about every other service necessary.


While most of us are firm supporters of a strong and guiding culture, the article left me feeling vaguely uncomfortable. Of course, I can agree to a large extent with the value of work life integration since housing is an issue in this geographical area of Silicon Valley. In the IT industry there, employees feel less tied to a company and more tied to the geographical location, hence this move serves as a good retention tool for Facebook’s employees. However, at what point does involvement in employees’ lives become intrusion in employees’ lives?


Here are some of my thoughts:

  • Culture or culprit? A robust culture can indeed support employees and the work at hand. However, when does the intensity of that culture begin to feel stifling? (Although employees are not required to live near the campus, will this eventually become an unwritten more?) While this is ultimately a person-organization fit issue, will employees feel empowered to draw the line when they feel the need for space?
  • Met expectations. There is concern as to what will happen when an employee seeks employment outside of Facebook, or any other permeating culture). Developed expectations could limit free movement and opportunities for career development. For instance, it could become difficult to give up on-site laundry for potential career opportunities. Moreover, this may hurt employees as they become labeled as spoiled or indulged.
  • Separation anxiety. I have as much concern for organizations as a whole, as for the individual employees. How will management in today’s organizations respond to an employee who refuses to sign on for a 24/7 technologically linked lifestyle? Will developing cultures be capable of digesting independence? It will also be difficult to restrict the employee from over committing himself to work if he is fully submerged in the organizational culture/ environment.
  • Retaining personal Identity. When a defined culture operates, it can become increasingly difficult to “buck” the system, even if this is required for the organization to remain adaptive. Strong cultures can provide support — but they can also begin to bind or limit “diversity of thought”. Having different life experiences outside of work can lead to a myriad of creative ideas that can have true impact on work. Unfortunately, shared norms and practices can unintentionally encourage the opposite of what they were originally designed to accomplish, and this could be a potential downfall for Facebook.


To conclude, I feel that organizations should be wary of the associated risks of developing an overpowering culture. While we strongly encourage following in the footsteps of establishing successful organizational cultures, it is important for managers to take note of the downsides of having too strong a culture. Do share with me your thoughts on this topic! I look forward to reading your comments. 🙂




Reed Albergotti. (2013, Oct 3) The Wall Street Journal. Facebook’s Company Town. Retrieved from: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303492504579111792834660448?mg=reno64-wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB10001424052702303492504579111792834660448.html

No manager in workplace … is it good?

Thinking about organizations, you might think about hierarchy, relations between managers and employees or even tension from being in control. But after studying Zappos case study, I found that Zappos is using an organizational structure that changes perspective of management and organization.


How does it feel if we remove all managers out of the organization?

“No manager” workplace was recently introduced and extensively used in some companies since they wanted to reduce problems between boss and employee, for example, politics in workplace. This structure aims to empower employees, let them work independently, eliminate all the extraneous factors that worry employees, make workplace flatter so employees will be more engaging with their works and organization and make everything in workplace simple, fast and explicit.

It seems good not to have a demanding and moody boss commands and guides you all the time so employees in the workplace would enjoy their freedom but the question is … Is this structure really good?

Yes, it’s good but I think it fits better for small organizations that have small group of employees and works are not complicated. Here are the reasons why I don’t think it would work for large organizations.

–       Coordination. Employees work independently but under the same organization, all works and tasks need to be coordinated and go in the same direction. How could we control this diversification? In conventional structure boss generally controls and guides employees to work in the same direction.

–       Motivation. We can’t deny that boss is the main reason to get works done. When boss says deadline, it’s a deadline. With no boss, employees must have high responsibility and driving force to get things done.

–       Praise and feedback. Boss usually gives employees feedback whether their work is good or bad. It’s important to have someone to check and see if you overlook something or to praise and support you when you work really hard.

–       Chaotic. Imagine large organizations with no managers, it would be chaotic because nobody takes control.

As I mentioned earlier that this structure fits better with small organizations but there are a lot of large organizations out there that use this structure and they become so successful such as Gore-Tex and Zappos.

I think the key of “no manager” organization is recruitment. The big question is “Who is the one that fit this structure?” Because it is different from other structures and it would be harder for companies if they hire someone who does not fit. Not only skills and mastery, attitudes and mindset are important for recruitment as well. With this structure, organization has to reduce diversification in attitudes, personalities of employees, so they can get along easier with others. And employees should be independent, good at working alone and making decisions. Zappos and Gore-Tex also have their own way of recruitment.

I can say that this is an innovation of management but it doesn’t fit all organizations because each one has different characteristics. So it doesn’t matter which structure is used in the organization because the key of success is people.







Culture as Liability: The Case of UBS

The important role of culture in a company has been long discussed. It can clearly differentiate companies and it is considered by many people as the only truly sustainable competitive advantage.[1]  Indeed, process can be duplicated, the best employees can be hired and idea can be copied.  This could be done by any competitor with the will, money and time. However, it is extremely complicated to duplicate the culture which explains why the culture is an invaluable asset.

In some cases, a strong culture could become a liability. During the class, we have seen that M&A failures can largely be explained by a clash of cultures. A good example is what has been called the worst deal in history: the merger between AOL and Time Warner in 2001[2]. Moreover, in their book Robbins & Judge draw attention to the fact that a strong culture could potentially lead to other dysfunctional behavior, namely institutionalization, barriers to change and barriers to diversity[3].

I would like to shed light on a case where a strong but dysfunctional culture is becoming a huge liability for a respected financial institution: UBS. The facts are simples: UBS has been involved in a new financial scandal almost every year for the last several years. Those scandals include tax evasion, money laundering, rogue trader[4], LIBOR rigging[5] and municipal bond market rigging[6]. It is worth noting that UBS is not the only financial institution being involved in scandals. However, the diversity and the repetition of the scandals over a long period of time make of UBS an interesting case for this class.

One could argue that it is largely a question of bad risk management. In my opinion, this argument fails to explain the repetition and the diversity across all the divisions of the scandals. Therefore, many experienced financial commentators have suggested convincingly that UBS strong culture is at the root of the problem.   

My view on that argument is that we have to distinguish between the culture of UBS and the culture of the whole industry. The financial industry is based on money and taking/managing risk.  As a result it attracts risk-takers and people for whom money is a crucial motivator. In addition, the financial world is known to attract brilliant people with a highly competitive mindset. This selection keeps alive the “Wall Street” culture.  I am convinced that those characteristics are not enough to lead to so many legal and ethical lapses[7]. In addition, no other financial institution has been touched to the same extent as UBS. Therefore it is seems that there is a specific culture at UBS.

Some Investment Banks are renowned to really prone teamwork. Goldman Sachs is the best example of this teamwork culture. At the opposite, some banks have an individualistic (which is not the same as independent) culture.  It seems that UBS is a very good example of a place where individuals matter more than the company. People close to the situation suggest that Mr Adoboli (the rogue trader who cost UBS around $2.3 billion in trading losses) unauthorized trading seems consistent with a culture at UBS that stressed individual advancement over team efforts[8]. Another investment baker explained to the New York Times: “Everyone is separate. People cut their own deals, and it’s every man for himself. A lot of people made a lot of money that way, and it fueled jealousies and efforts to get ever better deals. People thought of themselves first, and then maybe the bank, if they thought about it at all[9].

Interestingly, some people have argued that this is not a sign of a strong individualistic culture but rather a lack of culture.  I understand the reasoning but because this behavior seems to be (unofficially) encouraged by the top management, I still believe that there is a strong culture at UBS. Anyway, at the end the result is the same: UBS is a place where individuality and profits at any price are the rules.

For me the strong individualistic culture is without any doubt the main reason for UBS failures. But fortunately for UBS, I am also convinced that it is the solution. No software, risk management team or process will be able to prevent every rogue trader. The only solution is to build a culture where the company is more important than the individual. This will be extremely difficult and will take time. But it begins with a strong commitment and support by the top management (and not only officially) and also new criteria for the hiring of new employees. It may reduce profits on the short term, but will undoubtedly be beneficial for all the stakeholders on the long run.

The motivational issue of Singaporeans at work

Each individual has their own unique blend of reasons that motivates them to go to work.  Classically speaking, motivation is the processes that account for an individual’s intensity, direction and persistence of effort toward attaining a goal. In this case, towards achieving the organisational goals that have been set based on one’s job role.

In the past, Singaporeans have received the dubious honour of being “emotionless” and amongst the unhappiest in the world. Now, it has claimed another title as revealed in a recent Gallup poll, three in four Singaporean are “not engaged” in their work – meaning that they lack motivation to invest effort in organisational goals. This incidence rate is one of the highest in the world; far surpassing countries such as the United States (52 per cent) and Britain (57 per cent).

The Three Types of Employees

These findings brought to mind a recent dinner conversation I had with my friend, Jane, currently working as an analyst for a Swiss bank. Jane describes her current role as incredibly stressful as she needs do a timely and accurate reconciliation of trade transactions before 10 am every day. Failure to do so will lead to fines being imposed on the bank. This had caused her numerous sleepless nights with a recurring nightmare that she was late for work. In the end, she revealed that she was actively looking for another job. This might not raise any eyebrows but within the past three years, Jane has switched jobs three times – all of which are in the Financial Industry. And she is not the exception, but the norm especially for the millennial generation.

The Gallup findings portent a troubling future for Singapore. With a workforce that is unhappy, emotionless and “not engaged”, how could Singapore continue to sustainably compete on an international stage without leaving its citizens permanent emotional scars , constantly job-hopping or losing billions in lost productivity?

A storm is brewingAt a more severe level, a workforce that is “actively disengaged” not only spells doom in terms of productivity but carries more sinister undercurrents. From a productivity viewpoint, Gallup estimates that “actively disengaged” employees cost the Singapore economy about $6 billion in lost productivity. What is more troubling is in the survey findings, it was revealed that one in seven are so unhappy that they are “more or less out to damage their company” through acts like malingering or even stealing.

This is a serious problem. If nothing is done to address the issue that is facing the populace, this trend could be incredibly damaging to Singapore’s reputation of a multitude of hubs.

My personal take on this issue is for every individual, in particular, the Millennial to find a job that suits their passion and personality. It is important to not subscribe to society’s stereotypical notions of a successful career which is to be a doctor, lawyer, banker and so forth.

 “Don’t be trapped by dogma- which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary” – Steve Jobs

If one finds a job that is aligned with their interests, then the job would transcend beyond just ordinary work and has the potential to be truly transformative. For example, if someone is interested in Finance; he is more likely to put in the longer hours because he does not mind taking the extra time to pursue his passion which coincidentally coincides with the organisational goals. Such a worker is less likely to be “not engaged” or “actively disengaged”.

On the other hand ,if you are currently in a role that you do not have a passion for, you should take the leap of fate towards one which you will enjoy.  Take for instance, Cheng Hsin Yao, who throughout his life was a high-achieving Singaporean. He eventually landed a job as an investment banker working insufferable long hours which he was handsomely compensated for. Despite the prestige and monetary motivations, he left his plushy job and five-figure salary behind to pursue his entrepreneurial dreams of starting his own designer burger chain called Omasake burger.Cheng Hsin Yao

There are many Cheng Hsin Yao out there who took the leap of faith to pursue their dream. Iskandar Asmon, an engineer left his job to become a teacher because he loves working with children and has their welfare at heart. Hence, I believe finding a job that one derives pleasure from is the first step to be emotionally engaged. All that is needed is to identify what it is and to take that one leap of faith.


References :

  1. Robbins, S., & Judge, T. (2012). Organizational Behavior. Prentice Hall.
  2. Singapore Unhappiest: http://www.straitstimes.com/breaking-news/singapore/story/singaporeans-not-just-emotionless-unhappy-20121220
  3. Singaporeans second most unhappy employees worldwide : http://www.humanresourcesonline.net/news/31457
  4. Singaporeans “emotionless”: http://www.gallup.com/poll/158882/singapore-ranks-least-emotional-country-world.aspx
  5. “Not engaged” Singaporeans: http://www.stjobs.sg/career-resources/hr-updates/spore-staff-not-engagedat-work/a/146017
  6. Emotionally Stressed Singaporeans: http://businessjournal.gallup.com/content/164642/singaporeans-emotionally-stressed.aspx
  7. Cost of Worker’s Disengagement: http://businessjournal.gallup.com/content/22720/worker-disengagement-continues-cost-singapore.aspx
  8. Millennial Job-Hoppers: http://millennialbranding.com/2013/08/cost-millennial-retention-study/
  9. Cheng Hsin Yao – Investment Banker to Burger Entrepreneur: http://www.businesstimes.com.sg/archive/sunday/lifestyle/wine-dine/bitten-burger-bug-20130504
  10. Switch Career – Teacher: http://www.straitstimes.com/breaking-news/singapore/story/more-switch-jobs-become-teachers-20140209

Teams in Organisations: Oticon

When we leave university and step out into the workplace, the majority of us believe ourselves to be prepared to work with others in teams to meet specified goals or objectives. Teams are the norm now, though it was not the case decades ago when traditional hierarchical structures were perceived to be the most efficient and effective.

I have chosen to share with the class the case of Oticon, a Danish hearing aid technology company that once dominated the market in the 1970s but found itself lagging behind its competitors from the 1980s onwards. In the early 1990s, its CEO, Lars Kolind decided to implement drastic changes to the company to turn its performance around.


Kolind introduced a project-oriented organisation structure, where employees worked in self-formed, cross-functional teams. This later resulted in what became known as a “spaghetti organization”.

What image does the plate of spaghetti invoke?


Complex, informal, flexible “spaghetti organization”

Oticon experienced great success with the project teams and managed to outperform its big name competitors such as Siemens and 3M as it was able to bring innovative, high-quality products to the market at a much faster rate.


I will use the Team Effectiveness Model that was introduced in class to analyse what factors could have contributed to the effectiveness of the teams, and ultimately Oticon’s success in the early 90s. I have organised the information obtained from the various research in the table below.

Screen shot 2014-02-28 at PM 07.49.42


From the Oticon case, we are able to pick out what the company managed to do well in order to create effective teams that drive innovation and creativity. Some of the measures implemented can in fact serve as learning points to other companies that are looking to establish creative teams.

However, there remains some setbacks.

I have surmised that Oticon would have to resolve several issues in order to develop a project-based “spaghetti” organization that is sustainable in the long term:

  1. How will employees progress in the company in terms of career development given the rather flat structure?
  2. Will employees lose their functional “mastery” due to the multi-disciplinary focus? Is this necessarily a bad thing?
  3. How will the management control workplace politics? Is it possible that employees might only wish to work in teams with select individuals, depriving others of opportunities to work on “good” projects?

I feel that these are questions Oticon really needs to address if it hopes to maintain effective teams as part of its organizational structure. Do share your thoughts if you have an answer/ opinion with regard to the questions posed above. 🙂



Kolind, L. 2006. ‘The Second Cycle: Winning the war against bureaucracy’. Wharton School Publishing

Foss, N. J. 2003. ‘Selective intervention and internal hybrids: Interpreting and learning from the rise and decline of the Oticon spaghetti organization’. Organization Science 14: 331-349.

New Frontiers. “Rethinking Management’s First Principles.” <http://www.managementlab.org/files/u2/pdf/case%20studies/OticonCaseStudy_.pdf>.

Your Culture, Your Brand and You

Culture, that elusive force which both shapes an organization’s people and is in turn shaped by it, has been described as one of the most critical success factors for a company, even to the extent of defining its image. Tony Hsieh, who built up the famously exuberant Zappos culture, puts it elegantly: “Your culture is your brand.”

Exactly how much does culture matter to organizations? Research shows that effective culture can account for 20-30% improvement in corporate performance, which certainly should not be ignored. For the top executives of many companies, the next question in their minds would often be: “What is the best organizational culture for my company?” However, there does not appear to be a ‘perfect’, universal framework that applies to all companies. For instance, the competing values framework provides a guide on which type of culture to adopt, depending on factors such as the flexibility and type of focus of the organization.

Competing Values Framework

Competing Values Framework

Does this mean that there are no principles about organizational culture which is applicable to most organizations? Certainly not, as a few guiding principles have been uncovered, which most companies would be wise to adopt in order to increase productivity and achieve the organization’s goals. For example, the world’s most valuable and most admired company, Apple has been consistently following the principle of having high expectations of its employees, as shown in the following video:


As an Apple employee says in this video when describing Apple’s expectations of workers: “There is no such thing as good enough; it just has to be the best.” Furthermore, many other examples of Apple’s strong organizational culture is demonstrated throughout the video, including cross-collaboration across different departments, the emphasis on attention to detail and hiring people with common values. Building a culture that has come to define the entire company has paid off massively for Apple, contributing to the development of its iconic “I”-products and culminating in its rise to become the most valuable brand and most valuable company by market capitalization in the world.

Calligraphy on an iPhone case

Notably, Apple is inextricably associated with its late founder, Steve Jobs. Jobs has become a hero within the company and is widely revered by many in the company, with his idiosyncrasies coming to shape its culture. For instance, Jobs’ fascination with calligraphy is said to have influenced his, and by extension, Apple’s aesthetically pleasing products. Moreover, many talented Apple employees were initially drawn to the company because of Jobs’ presence. The takeaway is that having a symbolic leader at the helm of a company can spur employees to greater heights, bringing more success for the company.

Making good hiring decisions is not a value only unique to building Apple’s culture, but it is also a key point for another proponent of effective corporate culture, Tony Hsieh, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Zappos. In the following video, Hsieh describes how his acid test of whether a company’s culture fits him or not is whether he would willingly spend time with his colleagues after work:


An effective organizational culture is most easily built through hiring people that share the organization’s core values, as opposed to hiring someone who does not fit and attempting to change his/her ideals later. In addition, it is notable how Hsieh underscores the importance of organizational culture by asserting that it remains the number one priority in his company. Without an effective corporate culture, employees tend to be less motivated and productive at work, and the company’s results will in turn suffer.

Taj Mahal shootings

In relation to our module’s latest case study, the Taj hotel chain also emphasizes hiring people that fit the organizational culture over hiring those from elite business schools and prestigious backgrounds. The effectiveness of its organizational culture was demonstrated when the staff’s heroic actions saved the lives of numerous hotel guests, even at the risk of losing their own lives.

Building an effective organizational culture can indeed create a whole that is more than the sum of its parts, by improving employee engagement and the company’s brand. Conversely, a poor corporate culture could hurt the organization’s image and increase the turnover rate. Jobs’ Apple, Hsieh’s Zappos and the Taj hotel chain have shown us the importance of organizational culture to the success of a corporation. If you were to become a CEO, you ought to take their lessons to heart, for not only does your organization’s culture represents its brand, it also represents who you are.




Giggs, B. (2011, August 25). Steve Jobs: From college dropout to tech visionary. Retrieved from CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2011/TECH/innovation/08/25/steve.jobs.profile/

Hsieh, T. (2009, January 3). Zappos Blogs: CEO and COO Blog. Retrieved from Zappos: http://blogs.zappos.com/blogs/ceo-and-coo-blog/2009/01/03/your-culture-is-your-brand

Schweizer, K. (2013, September 30). Apple Overtakes Coca-Cola as World’s Most Valuable Brand. Retrieved from Bloomberg: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-09-30/apple-overtakes-coca-cola-as-most-valuable-brand-study-finds.html

Debunking the Myth of the Open-plan Office

Having attended OB classes thus far, I particularly noticed that the concept of the open-plan collaborative workspace has been brought up quite often. As an architecture student, at first it was mildly amusing how architecture could somehow be relevant in my business class (which also helped me discover that I can never escape its clutches). Then it occurred to me that it is actually quite interesting and therefore inspired me to discuss something that would relate both disciplines.

Now we are all aware of the trend in which organizations are moving towards- productive and creative workspaces, most notably the open-plan office space intended to foster communication, spark innovation and display transparency. Before any research, what I knew was only as good as assumptions to me. I wanted to learn more as I had some questions of my own. What does the open-plan really mean? Surely the design of successful open-plan workspaces consists of a more complex structure than it sounds. What is the linkage between open-plan spaces and, productivity and creativity? I wanted to be convinced, by understanding the fundamental rationale behind this relationship. And ultimately it begs the question, is the open-plan workspace a fool proof, sure-fire way to increase creativity and productivity in the work place?1Open-plan offices are favoured by companies largely because of economic factors – more employees can be housed in a smaller space. But there are also supposed communication benefits. The idea is that open spaces foster more communication between staff and boost community spirit. Yet, a new study based on a survey of over 42,000 US office workers in 303 office buildings finds no evidence to support this supposition whatsoever. (Jungsoo Kim, and Richard de Dear 2013) The study found that workers in enclosed private offices were the most satisfied with their work space followed by those in shared offices, followed by those in open-plan offices. Distraction by noise and loss of privacy were identified as the major causes of workspace dissatisfaction. Thus we can see how this contradicts the industry-accepted wisdom that open-plan layout enhances communication between colleagues and improves occupants’ overall work environmental satisfaction. And there are even more studies debunking the myth of the open-plan office.

However, this is not to say that we should entirely dismiss the open-plan workspace altogether. The open-plan workspace has its advantages as well such as ample daylighting, with less walls more natural light infiltrates the building. Undeniably, it provides more opportunities for tacit learning and interactions over enclosed offices. In my opinion, the success of the open-plan office lies in its execution.  Here, we can imagine two distinct types of the open-plan office space. Type A, your typical bond-trading floor like office with long rows of shared desks. Type B, the unconventional sprawling lofty offices of successful organisations such as Google.

Work   3

There is a stark comparison between the two and it is not difficult to choose which workspace one would rather be in. Both exhibit the open-plan typology but vary vastly in terms of the use of the space. The design of open-plan offices is not merely to provide a homogeneous space to contain people but an orchestrated blend of spaces encompassing variation(varying degrees of privacy) and stimulation(visually, emotionally and mentally) that flow seamlessly together.

So can there still be a link between the open-plan and creativity and productivity?

Ease of communication and collaboration aside, I think that we can look at the open-plan office as a kind of democratisation of space. With the walls down, everyone enjoys the same views, everyone has access to the same spaces with the same amenities. Even better, if your boss sits two tables away from you, sharing the same workspace with everyone else. (Especially in the modern workplace nowadays, with the mediation of space, we witness the flattening of organizational hierarchy… But I digress and this topic will be kept for another post!) What this does is it empowers the individual by making them feel as important, which consequently encourages, for instance, creative self-efficacy.  It also articulates that the people are part of the company culture and brand reflected in the design of the work space, thus boosting morale and inspiring better productivity levels.

What then, should be considered in the design of work spaces? Is the open-plan foolproof?

While the open-plan remains the choice design for many offices across the globe, it should not be adopted simplistically (meaning long shared desks and cramped aisles). It is important to note that work style influences workspace preference across most industries and organisations. And since work styles within organisations themselves also vary, what should be embedded subtly in the open- plan workspace are conditions that allow for a multitude of work processes that require varying degrees of privacy.  This can be achieved by the use of screens, green walls and furniture placement, etc. With more diversity in the types of spaces around the office, the workspace can better account for the complexities of workplace dynamics. In addition, the open-plan workspace can include portions of spaces intended for activities unique to the culture of the organisation, this can come in the form of a ping-pong table or an idea board. These are just two examples but what I wanted to bring across is that the right kind of space has the ability to stimulate people in the workspace which is essential for the human condition, as one may also observe in the office designs of companies such as Google or Microsoft.

Alexi Marmot, an architect and professor at UCL University College London says office layout shouldn’t be a compromise between private and public space, but one which offers both things to its employees whenever they need them. “We know from what young people are telling us that they prefer much more free-flowing places,” says Marmot. She describes a building she visited in Switzerland which offered workers a choice of sofas, coffee table areas, libraries, pool-style recliner chairs and even “a botanical garden with a few work tables among the plants”.

I would like to end this post with a video of an interesting office design which may be achieved in a not so sizeable office space. Click to view below!

Introducing the Superdesk


El-Zeiny, Rasha Mahmoud Ali. “Interior Design of Workplace and Performance Relationship: Private Sector Corporations in Egypt.” (2013).







Leading with emotional labour

“Hi Miss, could you help me with this system?”

“Hi Miss, the system is still not working. Are you even capable of doing this?”

“Hi Miss, are you expecting me to pay for this service? Who are you to even tell me what to do, bring me your manager!”

This may be a common scenario in the service line when dealing with difficult customers and I have personally encountered such instances during my part-time job whereby I feel both angry and humiliated because comments by customers can be degrading and harsh. Yet, due to the fact that it is part of my job to not only perform the tasks efficiently but handle customers effectively, I have to put on that big smile on my face and remain calm to pacify and satisfy the customers.

This is an example of the emotional labour concept that we have discussed in class. This term emotional labour has been first conceptualized by Hochschild in 1983 whereby he touched on the attribute of work that goes beyond physical or mental tasks especially for service line staff who acts as a major service touch point and has the most interaction with customers. In class, we discussed mainly about workers managing demands of emotional labour but personally I wonder if leaders of a company also have to go through such phase as they, too, have to deal with difficult situations whereby they have to display suitable emotions.

The answer is yes! Ashforth & Humphrey’s (1993) broader conceptualization of emotional labour widened scope of the term emotional labour by defining it as “ the act of displaying the appropriate emotion” and even included professions who are not only in the service line. Leaders in organisations also face difficulties when dealing with “toxic” emotions in organisations (Frost, 2004).

I chanced upon a paper with relevance to our class on the topics of leadership and emotional labour named :“ Emotional labour and leadership: A threat to authenticity?”. It was published in 2009 and sought to explore the three categories of leader emotional displays, mainly surface acting, deep acting and genuine emotions, and indicate desirable forms of displays that leads to effective leadership.

Model of leader emotional labour and authenticity

The paper provided us with a clear model representing factors that could possibly affect the way the leader may react to situations, such as the situation at hand ( “hassles and uplifts”) as well as individual differences. The model also depicts the possible outcomes that could arise from the 3 possible forms of leader’s emotional display.

Key takeaways from the paper:
1) Surface acting by a leader is negatively related to: a) the favorability of follower impressions; b) follower perceptions of leader authenticity and c) leader felt authenticity whereas deep acting and genuine emotional displays are positively related.
2) Leader emotional displays produce more favorable follower impressions when they reflect genuine emotions as opposed to deep acting, which in turn yields more favorable follower impressions than surface acting
3) Favorability of follower impressions of a leader and follower perceptions of leader authenticity are positively related to follower trust in the leader
4) Displays that produce high levels of leader felt authenticity ( e.g. genuine displays, and to a lesser extent, deep acting), yield lower levels of leader emotional dissonance and depersonalization and higher levels of personal accomplishments than displays that product lower levels of felt leader authenticity (e.g. surface acting)

The table below gives us a clear overview of the findings as well:

Leader emotional displays and outcomes

This shows us that emotional displays tend to be more desirable when consistent with display rules and genuine display of emotions seem to be the most appropriate form of emotional display out of the three options. However, personally I believe that it is not easy to consistently display genuine emotions due to situational pressures and thus leaders may choose to engage in deep acting as it is still the next best alternative to allow for trust in leader, relatively high favorable impression and perceived authenticity. Deep acting may also benefit leader’s well-being which is a fresh perspective from what we previously discussed in class.

As a potential future leader of the company, we should also try to show our most sincere and genuine side hopefully in line with display rules of positivity so that we can impact our staff in the right way as well! However in situations whereby it is hard for us to reflect truly how we feel, we should empathize with employees’ situation and engage in deep acting as workers will tend to react more positively when they see attempts from their superiors. We should try avoiding surface acting as fake emotions are easy to tell and may cause us to lose respect in the minds of our workers.

Gardner, W. L., Fischer, D., & Hunt, J. G. (2009). Emotional labor and leadership: A threat to authenticity?. The Leadership Quarterly, (20), 466-482.