Workplace stress is a significant problem for organisations, particularly stress induced as a consequence of strained interpersonal relations between employees and managers. In the modern workplace virtual communication between managers and employees is now becoming the dominant mode of communication (Wakefield, Leidner & Garrison, 2008). Cyber-communication removes most of the important communication cues such as eye contact, pitch, tone, rate of voice, facial expressions and body language, used in normal face-to-face communication (Giumetti, McKibben, Hatfield, Schroeder, & Kowalski, 2012). This restricts an employee’s ability to gauge the affective quality and intensity of the communication, thus greatly increasing the possibility for misconstrual and offense.
Even more problematic is that, not only are ambiguous communication messages more likely to be interpreted as critical; supervisors are somewhat less constrained to use inflammatory language online than they would if in person. According to Suler (2004) virtual communication has been seen to promote the dis-inhibition effect or a type of ‘cyber bravado’. This is where the absence of an instant communication feedback loop (i.e., seeing offence in the employees face) and the reduced likelihood of immediate reprisal can increase levels of incivility and criticism severity (Giumetti et al., 2012).
The increasing use of virtual communication between managers and employees in organisations is thus creating fertile ground for employees to feel intense emotional experiences such as frustration and anger. These emotions can lead to numerous negative psychological and physiological consequences for employees (Lewicki & Bunker, 1995), and subsequently sub-optimal outcomes for the organisation (Wessemann & Williams, 2011).
It has been demonstrated in the literature that there are several factors that can influence an employees’ level of frustration and anger (ref); namely, their level of emotional intelligence (EI), and ability to implement emotional regulation skills (i.e., expression, suppression, reappraisal, and control of emotions). Encouragingly, research has demonstrated that such EI skills can be developed within an individual with appropriate training (ref). Furthermore, of particular interest is to investigate the construct of trust in the manager / employee dynamic. More specifically, whether the level of trustworthiness felt by an employee towards a manager, increases or decreases the amount of anger experienced after an abusive interaction, and how does an individual’s EI relate to their propensity to trust.