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Start Happy, Stay Productive

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Put on a Happy Face. Seriously.

If employees start the day in a good mood, it can have a huge impact on the company's performance

    By 
  • NANCY ROTHBARD
It's one of those days. You argue with your spouse before heading out the door. A rude driver swerves in front of your car and you spill coffee on your lap. You arrive at work in a bad mood.
Will those negative feelings affect your productivity and performance for the rest of the day?
For many people the answer is yes, which is why taking steps to help employees start the day off on the right foot is something more organizations might want to consider.
Recent research I have done with Steffanie Wilk, an associate professor at the Fisher College of Business at the Ohio State University, examined the link between employee mood and performance on the job. We asked U.S.-based telephone customer-service representatives for a Fortune 500 company to record their moods at the start of and at various times during the day for a three-week period. After accounting for each employee's underlying temperament and the mood of the customers they were helping, we found evidence of virtuous and vicious cycles, depending on how the reps were feeling at the start of their shift.
Can smiling really boost your mood? WSJ's Christina Tsuei takes a look at the science behind smiling, in this latest installment of "Is It True?"
More specifically, the reps who were happy at the start of the day generally stayed that way as the day progressed. They tended to feel more positively after talking with customers, which resulted in their providing better service on subsequent calls.
Those who came to work miserable, on the other hand, tended to feel worse after interacting with customers, which in turn led to a more than 10% decline in their productivity as they had to take more small breaks between calls to get through the day.
What can companies take from this research? Our findings suggest that to enhance performance, it is critical to both acknowledge and reset the negative moods that employees bring with them to work. At the same time, reinforcing good moods—say, by offering cookies in the break room—may lead to an improvement in the quality of work produced. A manager might choose to focus more on minimizing negative moods or more on reinforcing positive ones, depending on which performance goal—productivity or quality—is more important.
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Misery Loves Company
Many organizations wrongly assume that employees dealing with things like stressful commutes or worrisome family problems can simply check their emotions at the door. Most can't. But there are steps that both employees and employers can take to reset the bad moods that compromise job performance.
One important way employees can reset a negative mood on their own is by creating a so-called intentional transition. That might mean stopping for a coffee, listening to a favorite piece of music or taking a more scenic route to the office. As our findings show, it's more than just a feel-good strategy—it can set the stage for making a better impression at work.
Leaders and managers, meanwhile, can do their part by creating positive transitions for their teams at the start of the workday. They might, for example, hold a quick motivational gathering with staff members each morning, or send an e-mail to each employee with a positive thought, goal or feedback.

Alison Seiffer
Managers also can give their employees time and space to reduce stress by letting them socialize and check in with colleagues before getting down to work. To that end, some management consultants suggest building in five or 10 minutes of open time at the start of meetings, so employees can share anything that may be distracting them from focusing on the agenda at hand. Some managers even bring toys such as squeeze balls and Slinkies to meetings, and encourage people to play with them to release stress.
One counterintuitive finding that came out of our study was that while bad moods at the start of the day generally persisted or got worse as the day went on, interacting with customers who had worse-than-average moods actually made employees feel less bad, an effect we called "misery loves company." Dealing with people who are worse off than themselves may allow employees to put things in perspective. Alternatively, dealing with miserable customers may give employees license to match the customer's tone in a way that allows them to vent their own frustrations.
Both of these strategies—putting one's problems in perspective and venting in an acceptable way—may help employees get into a better mood on their own, suggesting that strong intervention on the part of a manager isn't always required.
Flexibility Pays Dividends
Still, bosses who pay attention to the moods of their employees and show flexibility in how they respond are likely to reap rewards.
The manager who shows immediate frustration with an employee who arrives a few minutes late, for example, likely will exacerbate the person's bad mood, sending the employee into a negative tailspin that results in lowered productivity and compromised job performance all day. Moreover, the employee is less likely to hear, process and benefit from the manager's feedback at that time. Waiting for a more appropriate time to discuss the issue will help, both in terms of the manager's own emotional reaction, as well as the employee's ability to hear and discuss the feedback.
So think about creating an office culture that encourages a positive start to the day. It likely will pay dividends in both the short and long term.

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