Appendix A: Case Studies

Getting Emotional: The Case of American Express

Death and money can be emotional topics. Sales reps at American Express Company’s (NYSE: AXP) life insurance division had to deal with both these issues when selling life insurance, and they were starting to feel the strain of working with such volatile emotional materials every day. Part of the problem representatives faced seemed like an unavoidable side effect of selling life insurance. Many potential clients were responding fearfully to the sales representatives’ calls. Others turned their fears into anger. They replied to the representatives’ questions suspiciously or treated them as untrustworthy.

The sales force at American Express believed in the value of their work, but over time, customers’ negative emotions began to erode employee morale. Sales of policies slowed. Management insisted that the representatives ignore their customers’ feelings and focus on making sales. The representatives’ more aggressive sales tactics seemed only to increase their clients’ negative emotional responses, which kicked off the cycle of suffering again. It was apparent something had to change.

In an effort to understand the barriers between customers and sales representatives, a team led by Kate Cannon, a former American Express staffer and mental-health administrator, used a technique called emotional resonance to identify employees’ feelings about their work. Looking at the problem from an emotional point of view yielded dramatic insights about clients, sales representatives, and managers alike.

The first step she took was to acknowledge that the clients’ negative emotions were barriers to life insurance sales. Cannon explained, “People reported all kinds of emotional issues—fear, suspicion, powerlessness, and distrust—involved in buying life insurance.” Clients’ negative emotions, in turn, had sparked negative feelings among some American Express life insurance sales representatives, including feelings of incompetence, dread, untruthfulness, shame, and even humiliation. Management’s focus on sales had created an emotional disconnect between the sales reps’ work and their true personalities. Cannon discovered that sales representatives who did not acknowledge their clients’ distress felt dishonest. The emotional gap between their words and their true feelings only increased their distress.

Cannon also found some good news. Sales representatives who looked at their job from the customer’s point of view were flourishing. Their feelings and their words were in harmony. Clients trusted them. The trust between these more openly emotional sales representatives and their clients led to greater sales and job satisfaction. To see if emotional skills training could increase job satisfaction and sales among other members of the team, Cannon instituted a course in emotional awareness for a test group of American Express life insurance sales representatives. The goal of the course was to help employees recognize and manage their feelings. The results of the study proved the value of emotional clarity. Coping skills, as measured on standardized psychological tests, improved for the representatives who took Cannon’s course.

The emotional awareness training program had significant impact on American Express’s bottom line. Over time, as Cannon’s team expanded their emotion-based program, American Express life insurance sales rose by tens of millions of dollars. American Express’s exercise in emotional awareness shows that companies can profit when feelings are recognized and consciously managed. Employees whose work aligns with their true emotions make more believable corporate ambassadors. The positive use of emotion can benefit a company internally as well. According to a Gallup poll of over 2 million employees, the majority of workers rated a caring boss higher than increased salary or benefits. In the words of career expert and columnist Maureen Moriarty, “Good moods are good for business” (Kirkwood & Ward, 2002; Moriarty, 2007; Schwartz, 2008).

Discussion Questions

  1. What are some other jobs that deal with negative or unfavourable emotions on a daily basis?
  2. In what type of job might American Express’s open emotion policy not be acceptable?
  3. What are some ways you deal with negative emotions at work or school? Do you methods differ depending on what type of situation you are in?

Chapter Resource


Chapter 7: Managing Stress and Emotions in Organizational Behaviour by Seneca College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Kirkwood, G., & Ward, C. (2002, May 5). Ch…Ch…Ch…Changes: How can facility managers move people across the inevitable hurdles? Paper presented at FMA Ideation.

Moriarty, M. (2007, June 7). Workplace coach: Don’t underestimate emotional intelligence. Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Schwartz, T. (2008, September 11). How do you feel? Fast Company.

Motivating Employees: The Case of Canada’s Shopify

Shopify is a Canadian e-commerce company based in Ottawa, Ontario. Shopify offers services to online retailers “including payments, marketing, shipping and customer engagement tools to simply if the process of running an online store for small merchants” (McCleod, 2018, p. 2). Shopify was identified as one of Canada’s top employers for 2018 (click here to see the list for 2022). Watch the video below (direct link) and see what aspects you can pick out that makes Shopify a motivating place for it’s employees.

Discussion Questions

  1. What differentiates Spotify from other Canadian companies? Why do you think that they are rated so highly by their employees?
  2. What are some examples of incentives discussed in the chapter readings that are used by Shopify to motivate their employees?

Chapter Resource


This section is from:

Chapter 6: Designing a Motivating Work Environment in Organizational Behaviour by Seneca College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Glassdoor. (2016, Dec. 16). Shopify #1 best place to work in Canada 2017. [Video file]. YouTube.

McLeod, J. (2018, October 30). Shopify holds healthy chunk of pot sales’ upside, says COO. The Financial Post.  p.

Using Science to Match Candidates to Jobs: The Case of Kronos

Imgae of a Bakery Stall
Image: Seneca College. Organizational Behavior, CC BY-NC 4.0.. [click to enlarge]

You are interviewing a candidate for a position as a cashier in a supermarket. You need someone polite, courteous, patient, and dependable. The candidate you are talking to seems nice. But how do you know who is the right person for the job? Will the job candidate like the job or get bored? Will they have a lot of accidents on the job or be fired for misconduct? Don’t you wish you knew before hiring? One company approaches this problem scientifically, saving the business time and money on hiring hourly wage employees.

Retail employers do a lot of hiring, given their growth and high turnover rate. According to one estimate, replacing an employee who leaves in retail costs companies around $4,000. High turnover also endangers customer service. Therefore, retail employers have an incentive to screen people carefully so that they hire people with the best chance of being successful and happy on the job. Unicru, an employee selection company, developed software that quickly became a market leader in screening hourly workers (Frauenheim, 2006; Rafter, 2005). The company was acquired by Massachusetts-based Kronos Inc. (NASDAQ: KRON) in 2006 and is currently owned by a private equity firm.

The idea behind the software is simple: if you have a lot of employees and keep track of your data over time, you have access to an enormous resource. By analyzing this data, you can specify the profile of the “ideal” employee. The software captures the profile of the potential high performers, and applicants are screened to assess their fit with this particular profile. More importantly, the profile is continually updated as new employees are hired. As the database gets larger, the software does a better job of identifying the right people for the job.

If you applied for a job in retail, you may have already been a part of this database: the users of this system include giants such as Universal Studios, Costco Wholesale Corporation, Burger King, and other retailers and chain restaurants. In companies such as Albertsons, applicants use a kiosk in the store to answer a list of questions and to enter their background, salary history, and other information. In other companies, such as some in the trucking industry, candidates enter the data through the website of the company they are applying to. The software screens people on basic criteria such as availability in scheduling as well as personality traits.

Candidates are asked to agree or disagree with statements such as “I often make last-minute plans” or “I work best when I am on a team.” After the candidates complete the questions, hiring managers are sent a report complete with a colour-coded suggested course of action. Red means the candidate does not fit the job, yellow means proceed with caution, and green means the candidate can be hired on the spot. Interestingly, the company contends that faking answers is not easy because it is difficult for candidates to predict the desired profile. For example, according to their research, being a successful salesman has less to do with being an extraverted and sociable person and more to do with a passion for the company’s product.

Matching candidates to jobs has long been viewed as a key way of ensuring high performance and low turnover in the workplace, and advances in computer technology are making it easier and more efficient to assess candidate–job fit. Companies using such technology are cutting down the time it takes to hire people, and it is estimated that using such technologies lowers their turnover by 10%–30% (Berta, 2002; Frazier, 2005; Haaland, 2006; Overholt, 2002).

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it so expensive for companies to replace workers?
  2. In modern times, it is possible that an employee could have a number of different jobs in a short amount of time. Do you think this frequent job changing could skew results for this type of “ideal” employee selection? Do you think potential candidates can use these screening mechanisms to their advantage by making themselves seem like perfect candidate=es when in fact they are not?
  3. What personality traits may not see like a good fit based on an initial screening, but in fact, would make a good employee?
    Do you feel that hard work and dedication could overcome a person-job mismatch?

Chapter Resource


This section is adapted from:

Chapter 3: Understanding People at Work, Individual Differences, and Perception in Organizational Behaviour by Seneca College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Berta, D. (2002, February 25). Industry increases applicant screening amid labor surplus, security concerns. Nation’s Restaurant News, 36(8), 4.

Frauenheim, E. (2006, March 13). Unicru beefs up data in latest screening tool. Workforce Management, 85(5), 9–10

Frazier, M. (2005, April). Help wanted. Chain Store Age, 81(4), 37–39.

Haaland, D. E. (2006, April 17). Safety first: Hire conscientious employees to cut down on costly workplace accidents. Nation’s Restaurant News, 40(16), 22–24.

Overholt, A. (2002, February). True or false? You’re hiring the right people. Fast Company, 55, 108–109

Rafter, M. V. (2005, May). Unicru breaks through in the science of “smart hiring.” Workforce Management, 84(5), 76–78.

Being Ethical: Dealing with Conflicts of Interest

Damon has just been promoted to the program manager in his digital marketing agency. As program manager, he is responsible for working with vendors to provide services to his clients. One part of his job is to screen out potential vendors for clients and then make overall recommendations and provide project plans to the client based on his selected vendors. This relationship is important because the client places an immense amount of trust in the vendor choices made. Damon, with his straightforward communication style, is talented in picking and choosing the best vendors for the client, which was one reason he was hired. The nature of the job requires Damon to often meet with potential vendors and salespeople. One late afternoon, a vendor meeting with Valerie runs into dinnertime. Valerie asks Damon if he wants to have a drink and some appetizers while they continue discussing the services the vendor has to offer. They go next door to a pub and continue their discussion. When the check comes, Damon picks it up and the Valerie says, “No, you can’t pay for this. I got it.” Damon hands her the check and thanks her for dinner.

Later that week, after Damon has met with all possible vendors for the project, he decides to go with Valerie’s company. They provide the highest-quality services at the best price. In fact, their pricing is about 10 percent less while the services they will provide get rave reviews from other clients. Damon is confident it is the right choice. When Damon goes to the project manager with this decision, the project manager, Janet, says she prefers not to work with that vendor, then asks, “Didn’t Valerie take you to dinner the other night?”

Damon replies, “Yes, but that isn’t why I choose them to be our vendor for this project.” Janet doesn’t respond and turns back to her computer and asks Damon to explain why Valerie’s company is better.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the potential conflict of interest in this case?
  2. How can outside perception impact our ethical choices? Should outside perception affect our choices at work?
  3. Using one of the models discussed in the chapter, address how Damon should have gone about making this ethical choice.

Chapter Resource


This section is adapted from:

 Be Ethical at Work in Human Relations by Saylor Academy and is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License without attribution as requested by the work’s original creator or licensor.


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Psychology, Communication, and the Canadian Workplace Copyright © 2022 by Laura Westmaas, BA, MSc is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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