Sigal Barsade, whose research into organizational culture mapped the internal dynamics of the American workplace as accurately as any episode of “The Office,” and who advised countless companies on how to embrace and nurture the emotional well-being of their employees, died at February 2. 6 at her home in Wynnewood, Pa. She was 56.
Her husband, Jonathan Barsade, said the cause was a brain tumor.
dr. Barsade, a professor of management at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, pioneered what organizational psychologists call the affective revolution: the study of how emotions, not just behavior and decision-making, shape workplace culture, and determine how they act. affect the performance of an organization.
“Emotions have long been seen as noise, nuisance, something to ignore,” she told MIT Sloan Management Review in 2020. “But one thing we know now, after more than a quarter of a century of research, is that emotions aren’t noise — rather, they’re data. They reveal not only how people feel, but what they think and how they will behave.”
In one study, she showed that emotions and moods are contagious — that we subconsciously mimic the expressions and behaviors of those around us. She gave groups of people a task to complete together; unknown to the participants, she also assigned one person in each group to express a particular emotion — leaning back and frowning or leaning forward and smiling.
Those in the frown’s group, she found, had a much harder time coming to an agreement, while those with the laughter came to a consensus more quickly and with far less conflict.
In another study conducted with Hakan Ozcelik of California State University, Sacramento, she surveyed 650 people about office loneliness and found that it had a significant impact on productivity, but also that even a single office friend could offset those negative effects.
dr. Barsade was not only one of the first to look at the role of emotions within organizations; her studies were widely regarded as some of the most rigorous and well-designed in her field.
“She was the epitome of a high-quality scientist,” said Angela Duckworth, a psychologist and colleague of Dr. Barsades at Wharton. “Everything she did was a gem.”
dr. Barsade was an eloquent advocate of what she called camaraderie: the blend of affection, compassion, and kindness that she believed characterized a healthy workplace culture. She consulted with organizations such as Coca-Cola, Cisco and the National Football League about how to foster such an environment among their employees.
But she also warned that not all positive emotions are equally appropriate for all groups. A military unit, she said, would benefit more from a leader who emphasized pride and optimism over, say, joy and compassion. Negative emotions also had a place, she said, noting that anger was a key indicator that something is wrong and needs to be addressed.
And not all workplace cultures are right for all employees, she argued, even if their skills and experiences match those of their colleagues on paper.
“What is acceptable 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 you have to show positive emotions. American Airlines has a more limited emotional culture. Being in the wrong place can take an emotional toll.”
Some of what Dr. What made Barsade so effective in opening her profession to the study of emotions was that she put into practice what she taught. She was a skilled, empathetic communicator on paper, as well as in the classroom and the boardroom, drawing people to her, whether they were students or colleagues, and creating a network of scientists who wanted to take her insights further.
“I’ve been in the field for a while, and I firmly believed that if we could only be less emotional, work would be better,” said Adam Grant, a colleague of Dr. Barsade’s at Wharton, in a telephone interview. “And I no longer believe that, because of her research and because of her ten years of teaching.”
Sigal Goland was born on August 28, 1965 in Haifa, Israel. Her father, Yakov Goland, was an engineer at Boeing; her mother, Nili (Yutan) Goland, was a software engineer. The family moved to Los Angeles when Sigal was 3 so that 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 received 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 ten years before arriving at Wharton in 2003.
She married Mr Barsade in 1986. She leaves her parents with him; her brother, Yaron; her daughters, Sivahn and Maayan; and her son, Itai.
Doctors discovered Dr. Barsade at the start of the pandemic. She nevertheless delved deeper into her work and realized that with employees scattered throughout their homes, many of her areas of research, such as loneliness in the workplace, were suddenly more important than ever.
She helped companies devise ways to maintain a healthy emotional culture in a world of remote work, and when vaccines began rolling out in early 2021, she helped lead a task force to convince more people to get the opportunity.
“We spend a lot of time carefully creating knowledge that we test so that it is applicable. The whole point in generating knowledge is to make it useful and practical,” she told The Daily Californian in 2021. “There’s no better use for our knowledge right now than that.”