Sigal Barsade, 56, Dies; Argued That It’s OK to Show Emotions at Work

Sigal Barsade, whose studies of organizational culture charted the internal dynamics of the American workplace as precisely as any episode of “The Office,” and who advised countless companies on how to embrace and nurture their employees’ emotional well-being, died on Feb. 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 University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, was a pioneer in what organizational psychologists call the affective revolution: the study of how emotions, not just behavior and decision making, shape a workplace culture, and in turn how they affect an organization’s performance.

“For a long time, emotions were viewed as noise, a nuisance, something to be ignored,” she told MIT Sloan Management Review in 2020. “But one thing we now know after more than a quarter-century of research is that emotions are not noise — rather, they are data. They reveal not just how people feel, but also what they think and how they will behave.”

In one study, she showed that emotions and moods are contagious — that we unconsciously mimic the expressions and demeanors 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 — to lean back and scowl or lean forward and smile.

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