How to Reset a Bad Mood at Work

We’ve all woken up on the wrong side of the bed and arrived at work already mad at the world. But a new study shows that your start-of work-day mood impacts productivity and how you approach work events.

The ability to shake your woke-up-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-bed bad mood and put on a happy face goes a long way to having a positive work performance, according to researchers Nancy Rothbard and Steffanie Wilk. Turning a cloudy workday sunny can be difficult, but it’s up to employees and managers  to reset the bad mood button.

The study

For the study, Rothbard, an associate professor of management at UPenn’s Wharton School, and Wilk, associate professor at the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University, tracked customer service representatives (CSRs) in the call center of a Fortune 500 insurance company over a three-week period, recording their moods at the start of and during various intervals in the workday.

CSRs are required to shift among many applications, choose which of those applications will best resolve a customer issue, all while avoiding dead space by having a pleasant interchange. The task requires problem solving and cognitive flexibility, both which are dependent on levels of dopamine in the brain, levels which increase with a positive mood.

The study showed starting the day with a positive mood favorably impacted a CSR’s quality metric resulting in better customer service. Conversely, start-of-workday negativity typically spilled over after calls and brought down productivity by as much as 10%.

Attention managers: ignorance isn’t bliss

Ignoring what happens outside of the workplace can be a problem for managers, and he assumption that employees can check their aggravations at the company’s front door is wrong, Rothbard says.

Interpersonal skills are often trumped on a manager’s priorities list, but according to Rothbard, how managers treat employees, interact with them and inspire them may shape how they do their jobs. Disgruntled employees become disenchanted, leave the company, or in worse case scenarios sabotage the firm.That’s an incredibly expensive way to run a company,” Rothbard says.

The research makes a distinction between a manager who focuses on minimizing negative moods and one who accentuates the positive. A manager who encourages an employee to conform to workplace behavioral standards can influence operational capacity by increasing the employee’s availability to customers. But capitalizing on and deepening a positive mood, is important for encouraging higher quality of service.

In many organizations and especially those with careful scheduling like call centers, tardiness is seen as unacceptable. Sometimes call-center managers punish workers for even one-minute violations of sign-in. “By acting punitively toward an already frazzled employee first thing in the morning, a manager may be setting the employee up to have a less productive day,” the study says.

Finger on the mood button

Certainly, employees hold much of the responsibility to reset their own negative mood. Just like germs in the office, moods—good or bad—spread as well. “Some people bring wonderful things to the workplace and both employers and their colleagues can capitalize on their good moods," says Rothbard.

Simple actions like stopping for coffee on the way to work, listening to a favorite piece of music while commuting or taking a more scenic route to the office, can create an intentional transition to dispel negative feelings, helping to set the stage for making a better impression at work.

From a manager’s perspective, it takes effort and cognitive energy to regulate negative emotions in the office that can kill focus and productivity. Holding brief daily motivational gatherings with staff members, sending emails to employees expressing a positive thought, goal or feedback, or serving a basket of fresh fruit each morning or some warm chocolate chip cookies—all serve as mood boosters, which in turn creates more output.

Managers can also give their employees some socializing downtime at the start of each workday before requiring them to knuckle down.

A department’s culture should influence the way that a manager improves workplace attitude. Nonetheless, the first important step is the manager creating a positive relationship with his or her employees.

“Getting to know them personally enables you to do a better job in setting a positive tone,” says Rothbard.

“And pay attention to how your employees feel when they walk through the office door.” It’s definitely part of the job—even if it’s not spelled out in the job description.