When a day starts out bad, it just gets worse, according to a recent study that showed workers who get up on the wrong side of the bed pretty much stay on the wrong side of happy for the rest of the day.
The research, conducted by Steffanie Wilk, associate professor of management and human resources at Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business, studied telephone customer service representatives. It showed that employees' moods when they first arrived at work affected how they felt the rest of the day. Moods early in the day were linked to their perceptions of customers and to how they reacted to customers' moods.
The research found that this escalates when it's the manager who arrives at work in a grumpy mood. Supervisors' attitudes had a clear impact on performance, including both how much work employees did and how well they did it.
"We saw that employees could get into these negative spirals where they started the day in a bad mood and just got worse over the course of the day," said Wilk. "That's why it is so important for companies to find ways to help their workers start off the day on the right foot."
Even if you wake up crabby and have a horrible commute to work, all is not lost, however. The study found that while the start-of-the-day mood sets a tone, employees' moods could and did change, according to Wilk. And the good news is that employees were more likely to see a bad move improved, than a good mood ruined.
In 17 percent of the cases studied, employees who started the day with a higher positive mood than normal would later slide to a below-average mood after a difficult call. But in 40 percent of the cases the opposite occurred: an employee in a below-average mood moved into an above-average mood after a positive call.
But surprisingly enough, negative customers didn't do further damage to the spirits of employees who were already in a bad mood. "We call it the 'misery loves company' effect," Wilk said. "If you're in a bad mood, it seems to help to talk to someone else who is feeling as bad as you are. Maybe the employees were able to blow off some steam by reacting to rude customers."
Wilk believes it would be more effective for employers to reward and sustain positive moods, rather than to punish or penalize negative moods. "If you've had a rough commute and you have to rush to your desk, and you know you're going to be in trouble, that's not a good way to start your workday. Once an employee starts that way, it could have negative consequences for the company the whole day," she concludes.
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