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Worry at Work: How Organizational Culture Influences Anxiety

Organizational culture profoundly influences how employees think and behave. Established research suggests that the content, intensity, consensus, and fit of cultural norms act as a social control system for attitudes and behavior. We adopt the norms model of organizational culture to elucidate whether organizational culture can influence how employees experience emotions. We focus on a pervasive emotion, anxiety. We propose four important pathways that link organizational culture with anxiety. First, we propose that when norm content is result-oriented, employees must strive for challenging goals with specific targets under time pressure, and are more likely to experience anxiety. Second, when norm intensity is weak, employees do not internalize norms and they engage in deviant behaviors that increase uncertainty and promote anxiety. Third, a lack of consensus about norms commonly creates conflict between factions within an organization and increases anxiety. Fourth, when there is a mismatch between employees’ values and organizational norms and values, the misfit engenders anxiety. Taken together, different features of organizational cultural norms can independently and multiplicatively influence the magnitude of anxiety, which has constructive or destructive effects on performance.

Jeremy Yip
Georgetown University
United States

Emma Levine
University of Chicago
United States

Alison Wood Brooks
Harvard Business School
United States

Maurice Schweitzer
United States


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