The Impact of Leader Emotions on Employee Emotion and Performance

Dr. Kelly Schwind Wilson

Dr. Kelly Schwind Wilson, Steps to Leaps Research Collaborative member.

Affective states, including positive and negative emotions, influence numerous behavioral and relational experiences at work. Employees can also “catch” emotions from their coworkers. In this research, we surveyed employees and their managers daily for three work weeks to examine the daily ebbs and flows in the leader-employee relationship. We found different implications when leaders display positive versus negative affective states. Leaders’ daily positive affective states were associated with contagion such that employees experienced an increase in their own daily positive affective states and then reciprocated with higher task performance, which was followed with help from the leader. On the other hand, leaders’ daily negative affective states were associated with decreases in both employee satisfaction regarding their relationship with the leader and their own task performance, which was followed by reduced help from the leader.

These findings demonstrate the different implications that unfold from leaders' daily expression of positive or negative emotions. On the one hand, showing positive emotions to employees releases a positive spiral that benefits both employee and leader outcomes. On the other hand, displaying negative emotions to employees can be detrimental for both parties. This research holds recommendations for all employees, including interns, student workers and new graduates, when it comes to building positive and reciprocal relationships with their leaders, as well as for leaders and how they interact and communicate with their employees every day. Both parties can benefit from carefully managing and repairing their emotional states through proper breaks, self-reflection, and practicing gratitude and mindfulness.


Bartels, A. L., Nahrgang, J. D., Sessions, H., Wilson, K. S., Wu, L., & Law‐Penrose, J. (2022). With a frown or a smile: How leader affective states spark the leader‐follower reciprocal exchange process. Personnel Psychology, 75(1), 147-177.