The Effect of Affect

The Effect of Affect

Okay, we’re not going to lie. We’ve definitely had those Mondays where you roll into the office, and, well, it feels like someone’s got a case of the Mondays.

You know what we mean; the type of day where it feels like nothing can go right. You snoozed your alarm too many times, someone cut you off on the way into the office, and you spill coffee on your white shirt, all within a couple of hours.

While it’s normal to have a bad day here and there, how can routinely bad days affect your team? What’s the effect of letting a bad mood affect your work environment?

Emotional Culture

When it comes to company culture, it’s easy to pinpoint important factors like leadership and organization as contributors to overall success, but according to a leading researcher from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, there’s more to it.

In a research paper titled, “‘Why Does Affect Matter in Organizations?’,” discussed on Wharton’s Knowledge @ Wharton podcast,  Dr. Sigal Barsade notes employees’ moods, emotions, and overall dispositions have an impact on job performance, decision making, creativity, turnover, teamwork, negotiations, and leadership.

In the case of Dr. Barsade’s research, affect is equivalent to a company’s emotional culture, or, “The shared affective values, norms, artifacts, and assumptions that govern which emotions people have and express at work and which ones they are better off suppressing.”

Dr. Barsade writes that as a whole, corporate culture usually refers to cognitive culture. Unlike emotional culture, cognitive culture is made up of company norms and values and determines how employees behave and perform their jobs. She also notes that cognitive culture uses verbal communication, while emotional does not.

While emotional culture may seem insignificant, it’s not, and according to Dr. Barsade, it’s rarely managed with as much attention as intellectual culture. Emotional culture’s effects extend beyond a disgruntled employee and reach as far as the bottom dollar.

Barsade writes,

Countless empirical studies show the significant impact of emotions on how people perform on tasks, how engaged and creative they are, how committed they are to their organizations, and how they make decisions.


Emotional Contagion

In earlier research, Barsade discovered one person’s mood can transfer to another. She dubbed this phenomenon emotional contagion.

Barsade refers to one person’s bad mood affecting the entire company as a ripple effect, meaning the consequences for one angry email could extend far beyond people’s inboxes and impact another person’s day.

On the other side of the coin, this means there’s potential for good moods to infect a workplace positively. In fact, Barsade’s data suggests that positive people flourish in the workplace, not just because they’re easier to get along with, but because negative moods take up more cognitive energy.

Barsade notes that bad moods require more brain power. If you’re in a bad mood, you’re more likely to focus on that mood’s effect. If you’re in a positive mood, your brain is more open to taking information and handling it effectively.

Start Your Day Off Right

Another researcher from Wharton, Dr. Nancy Rothbard, conducted a study on how our morning mood can impact the rest of the day.

In the study, co-authored with Stephanie Wilk, an associate professor at the Fisher College of Business at the Ohio State University, Rothbard and Wilk charted the moods of customer service representatives over the course of several weeks. Their research uncovered an interesting finding: CSRs who started out the day in a good mood stayed that way throughout the day, while those who started the day in a terrible mood never climbed out of it, and in fact felt even worse by the end of day.

Furthermore, employees in a bad mood were more likely to take breaks to deal with the stress of their mood, leading to a 10% decrease in productivity.

Rothbard does offer advice on how managers and employees can stop a negative moods in its tracks before it wreak havoc on the entire workday:

  • Send out positive emails first thing in the morning, not negative
  • Feed people and celebrate accomplishments to build comradery
  • Allow a reset from the day before. That means time at home should be spent at home, not answering late night emails
  • Listen to music
  • Chat with coworkers
  • Finally, Dr. Rothbard suggests before even walking through the door to take a deep breath and remember it will all be okay

Having learned more about the effects of affect and emotional contagion, keep Barsade and Rothbard’s research in mind the next time a case of the Mondays comes on. If you catch your lousy mood early, you can stop it before it ruins your day and someone else’s.

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[…] One person’s bad mood can affect the entire company in a ripple effect, meaning the consequences for one angry email could extend far beyond people’s inboxes and impact another person’s day. On the other side of the coin, this means there’s potential for good moods to infect a workplace positively. In fact, research suggests that positive people flourish in the workplace, not just because they’re easier to get along with, but because negative moods take up more cognitive energy. Barsade notes that bad moods require more brain power. If you’re in a bad mood, you’re more likely to focus… Read more »

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[…] As discussed in a previous blog entry, employees’ moods, emotions, and overall dispositions have an impact on job performance, turnover, teamwork, and leadership. […]

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