|dc.description.abstract||Transitioning towards environmental sustainability is now a critical pathway to a positive global future. As part of this, the work of individual change agents who lead and champion green agendas and initiatives in organisations is critical to maximising the impact of the corporate sustainability movement. These individuals can be categorised as “sustainability change agents”, which includes managers, professionals and consultants who either take on or are assigned the responsibility of influencing and implementing sustainability outcomes in organisations (Egri & Herman, 2000; Robertson & Barling, 2013; Taylor, Cocklin & Brown, 2012). A concerning trend, however, is the potential for these change agents to experience negative emotions like frustration and anger as a result of challenges and roadblocks encountered in their work, with detrimental impacts on their ability to communicate sustainability agendas and influence green outcomes (Andersson & Bateman, 2000; Wright & Nyberg, 2012). To date, literature has focused primarily on the events and situations that cause change agents to experience emotion, and less on how such emotions might be managed (Fineman & Sturdy, 1999). In this thesis, I argue that emotion generation and emotion regulation theories are an essential consideration in how sustainability change agents navigate their complex work environments to successfully sell and implement green agendas and initiatives, and ultimately influence sustainability outcomes. Emotion generation and emotion regulation are both well-studied phenomena in the field of organisational behaviour, and explain the different mechanisms through which individuals are triggered to feel emotion (see Affective Events Theory - Weiss & Cropanzano, 1996) and how they manage the experience and expression of their emotions through cognitive reappraisal, suppression and expression (see the process model of emotion regulation theory - Gross, 1998). Both have subsequent impacts on the personal and professional outcomes of individuals (Lawrence, Troth, Jordan & Collins, 2011). However, these two theories have not been examined in the field of corporate sustainability to date or in the context of sustainability professionals.
The aim of my program of research is to understand how sustainability change agents use emotion regulation to maximise their ability to influence environmental outcomes in organisations. To address this aim, I use a blended framework of Affective Events Theory (Weiss & Cropanzano, 1996) and emotion regulation theory (Gross, 1998), and propose the following research questions: RQ1: What events and situations cause sustainability change agents to experience strong positive and negative emotion when promoting sustainability initiatives?; RQ2: How do sustainability change agents regulate emotion when promoting sustainability initiatives?; RQ3: What organisational and individual factors impact the strategies that sustainability change agents use to regulate emotion when promoting sustainability initiatives?; RQ4: Which emotion regulation strategies enhance the performance of sustainability change agents when promoting sustainability initiatives?
I present the rationale and development of these research questions in Chapter 1, which is followed by a review of relevant literature in Chapter 2. To answer my research questions, I develop a multi method program of research, including one qualitative study and one quantitative study, conducted with a sample of sustainability change agents. In Study 1, presented in Chapter 3, I conducted in-depth interviews with 20 sustainability change agents to capture rich insights from their emotional experiences in the role. The results from Study 1 confirm that sustainability change agents are indeed faced with complex and contested organisational conditions in which they work, which induce a broad spectrum of emotions, and further reveal the positive and negative impacts this has on their job performance and personal wellbeing. Drawing on the findings of the qualitative study, I then outline a new theoretical model in Chapter 4 that promotes emotion regulation as a construct for understanding how sustainability change agents manage the experience and display of their emotions in their work (Dieffendorff, Richard & Yang, 2008; Gross, 1998) with respect to the outcomes of performance (Côté & Morgan, 2002) and burnout (Zhao, Li & Shields, 2019).
In Study 2, presented in Chapter 5, I draw on my model to develop hypotheses and conduct a quantitative study using a split administration survey method, again with a sample of sustainability change agents. Here I seek to identify which emotion regulation strategies lead to better performance and wellbeing outcomes for sustainability change agents, specifically in relation to the discrete emotions of passion and frustration (found to be especially salient in Study 1). I also consider how emotional intelligence (Côté, Moon & Miners, 2008) and organisational display rules around sustainability (Andersson & Bateman, 2000; Dieffendorff & Richard, 2003) influence this process. In this study, I focus on the situational form of emotion regulation, which allows for examination of emotion regulation strategies in relation to specific events and emotions (Brans, Koval, Verduyn, Lim, & Kuppens, 2013; Gross & John, 2003). The results from Study 2 show that when sustainability change agents suppress their passion for the role, they are likely to have higher job performance, however this simultaneously increases the likelihood of personal burnout. Interestingly, sustainability change agents higher in emotional intelligence were less likely to suppress their feelings of passion, and more likely to express them, which may protect against the effect of burnout also observed.
The participants in my program of research have demonstrated that committed, motivated professionals are striving to make positive advances in the shift towards sustainability in organisations. However, committed individuals alone are insufficient to generate significant progress toward this goal given the complexities and challenges associated with championing sustainability agendas in organisations. My thesis offers a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the varying emotions change agents experience and display to successfully influence green outcomes.
In terms of theoretical contribution, my research and proposed theoretical model advance our understanding of the construct of emotion regulation and its underlying strategies as an important consideration for sustainability change agents. From a practical perspective, my program of research provides insights into how sustainability professionals might be able to better manage the emotionality of their work to enhance their ability to influence sustainability outcomes and preserve their personal wellbeing. My findings may also inform organisations and managers about how to better support change agents in their challenging roles through professional development that builds personal and professional resilience. Organisations may also consider developing cultural norms that accept and encourage green practices through clear policy, top management buy-in and cultural change. With sustainability change agents being at the front line of the organisational response to sustainability, researchers and practitioners in the field need to ensure these professionals feel supported to maintain their commitment and develop their resilience to withstand the challenges and emotions faced in their role, and in turn, support the viability of the corporate sustainability movement.||