Moods are specific emotional, physical and mental states that play a critical role in our performance at work. If our mood is positive everything flows smoothly; if our mood is low everything is a struggle. A positive mood increases our energy and productivity, while a low mood tends to have the opposite effect.
All of us experience mood swings during our work day. Seemingly random, they often follow patterns linked to factors such as the time of the day and blood sugar levels, or they can be triggered by certain people and events.
Mood swings are a fact of life. The issue is how well we handle them. The practice of “mood management” is a little known yet vital dimension to organizational performance and productivity. Moods can facilitate or hinder performance and job satisfaction.
For example, a bad mood can have damaging effects on an employee. Someone suffering from a bad mood is likely to be less productive. Most bad moods lead to distraction, tiredness, loss of motivation and anxiety. Everything becomes an uphill struggle and less is achieved.
If you are suffering from a bad mood, you also tend to be less satisfied with your job. You can feel out of control and simply tread water as your energy is directed to just coping with the mood. Unchecked, this can lead to health problems such as stress and illness.
A bad mood is like a virus that spreads to everyone you come into contact with. If you are a manager who is feeling down, you risk lowering the mood of your team. Every colleague or customer who comes into contact with you is vulnerable to “catching” your mood like a cold.
The opposite effect takes place too. Our individual moods are affected by the collective mood of the workplace. I worked with a technology business where when I walked into the office I could feel the chill and smell the fear. This was an unhappy place, and my first task was to confront the atmosphere of the business.
Productivity was down, and I had been hired to teach sales and negotiation skills. I could have wasted the management’s time and money teaching these skills, yet poor selling and negotiation were only a symptoms of the real problem—a low collective mood.
The sales and support people were suffering from low morale and had lost faith in their management and their products. Their mood had deteriorated yet nobody had done anything to address it, and the mood had remained like a dark cloud hanging over everything they did.
I went straight to the cause of the predicament and trained the managers in mood management. First, I demonstrated the link between mood and productivity. Through a series of interviews and surveys, it became clear that over 80% of the employees were dissatisfied and unhappy. Their low moods had increased in length and severity over the previous twelve months.
Then I quantified the cost of bad moods, not just in human but also in financial terms. The resulting drop in performance and increase in absenteeism and staff turnover ran into millions of dollars.
Once the cause, scale and cost of the problem were established the next step was to improve the collective and individual moods of the staff. This raises the question of how we change or raise moods.
Initially the most challenging task is to get people to talk about moods and acknowledge that they might be feeling down. Paradoxically, the obsession with feeling positive all the time can be counter-productive. Employees can feel embarrassed to admit they feel low and are susceptible to pressure to conform to cultural norms and expectations of enthusiasm and optimism.
So honesty is critical if you want genuine rather than superficial change. This means meeting people where they really are, not where you think they should be. Then your staff will trust you and work with you. Mood management requires great sensitivity and empathy.
Managers are best placed to improve the collective mood by being positive themselves and creating an environment that encourages openness, honesty and support. Enthusiasm and optimism should be natural, not contrived. One technique I used was to measure mood on a daily basis in the same way you would measure sales or profit. We promote and reinforce what we measure.
On the other hand managers are less effective in a counseling role. They are not psychotherapists, and one-to-one counseling or group sessions rarely succeed in an organizational setting without professional help. As a manager you can best help employees improve their moods by helping them help themselves. The key skills of individual mood management are:
• Gaining awareness of the causes and patterns of your individual moods and mood swings
• Learning how to interrupt negative moods and move to a state of relaxed alertness
• Learning how to improve your physical, emotional and mental state and to take charge of your mind through breathing techniques and redirecting your attention to more healthy thoughts.
When you manage your moods you will not necessarily feel happy or upbeat all the time. What you will feel is more calm and relaxed, as you are able to diminish the impact of bad moods and increase the frequency and quality of good moods.
The clients that I have worked with have seen increases in job satisfaction and in productivity. Healthy individual and collective moods lay the foundation for improved motivation, energy and performance, which in turn leads to improved results. So next time you are considering how to support your employees or looking for ways to increase productivity, remember to include “moods” in your thinking and in your plans.