Better Mood, Better Bottom Line

Employees can “catch” the moods of their leaders, which can impact job performance, writes emotional intelligence expert Daniel Goleman.

Daniel Goleman, author of the bestseller “Emotional Intelligence,” is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry.

Think your mood doesn’t matter for getting work done? Consider these examples:

? Front-line employees at a call center use a code describing their manager’s mood to tell each other when to avoid the boss. The message: Don’t approach him on a “Code Red” day when his anger is flaring. Time spent signaling was time NOT spent focused on work.
? Day-to-day work of accounting staff in a grocery-distribution company would rarely be called “fun.” Yet everyone walking into that department finds playful signs on cubicle walls and hears laughter coming from the conference room. The upbeat mood translates into employees willing to put in extra work during crunch times.
? It didn’t take a calendar for financial-services company employees to know when the unit director was scheduled to discuss stagnant sales with the CEO. That director’s growing anxiety showed in increased pressure to meet targets and brusque responses to questions. Her direct reports caught her fear like the flu and their performance suffered.

Most leaders recognize they need to use their cognitive abilities to be effective at work. Fewer realize how their emotions and moods can impact on their own performance and that of those they lead. Emotions are often intense, brief, and can lead to moods. Moods, while less intense than emotions, can linger for longer. Both impact getting work done.

Research shows that moods matter at work, especially leaders’ moods

While teaching at Yale University, Sigal Barsade conducted research on what she calls “emotional contagion.” Her research showed that individuals and groups “catch” the emotions of others. Since people in the workplace pay attention to those in power, leaders’ moods are more likely to spread. Now at Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, Barsade and Olivia A. O’Neill from George Mason University describe results of research on workplace emotional culture across many industries in a 2016 Harvard Business Review article.

Emotional culture influences burnout, teamwork, and employee satisfaction as well as absenteeism and financial performance. Countless studies show that emotions impact how engaged and creative people are, how they perform on tasks, how committed they are to their organizations, and how they make decisions. Better performance, customer service, and quality are associated with positive emotions across industries, roles, and organizational levels. Sadness and anger lead to high turnover and poor performance.

How leaders can manage moods

Recognizing the impact of mood, what’s a leader to do? The first step is to be aware of your emotions, then to be able to control them. Emotional Self-Awareness and Emotional Self-Control are two key competencies in my model of Emotional and Social Intelligence. Barsade has advice for leaders: Change your mood if it isn’t useful. You can start by changing your facial expression. By doing so, you’re deploying the facial feedback hypothesis: facial expressions impact our emotions. Smiling intentionally can lead to feeling positive emotions. It takes more than smiling to be skillful at using your emotions, but it’s a good place to start.