Is an Employee Cranky? Why You Should Take it Seriously

Last Updated Apr 15, 2011 3:24 PM EDT

It may seem silly for companies have their employees start the day by doing calisthenics together or doing team-building exercises, but a new study sheds some light on why doing so might be worthwhile.

The study, by Steffanie Wilk of Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business, and Nancy Rothbard of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, looked for connections between employees' moods and their productivity at work. "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," says Wilk. Those employees did less work than their cheerier co-workers, and did it less well.

Are We Happy Yet?
The researchers asked 29 call center representatives to fill out measures of their mood at the beginning of the day and at two additional random points in the day. At those two later points, the call center reps were also asked to characterize the attitude of their most recent customer-was he or she rude, calm, insulting, or cheerful? Researchers listened in on the calls, providing their own estimations of each inbound caller. They also tracked how many calls each rep took, the number of calls they transferred, and the percentage of time the reps spent on the phone.

  • When employees started the day in a good mood, it stuck with them. They rated customers more positively and rated their own mood more positively as they day went on.
  • Good moods seem to be more stable than bad ones. In 17 percent of the cases, an employee who started the day in a good mood would later be in a worse mood because of one of their calls. That compares to 40 percent of cases in which an employee in a below-average mood actually got into a better mood after a call.
  • Bad moods tend not to get worse. If a customer service rep was already in a bad mood, talking to a down-in-the dumps customer didn't make them any more miserable.
  • People in a good mood generally do higher quality work. For call center reps, that meant they had greater verbal fluency-fewer 'ums' and 'ahs'-and less tripping over their words or mumbling.
  • People in a lousy mood do less work. Even though these workers knew they were being monitored, they would take more breaks and answer fewer calls. "They just couldn't sit there, take the calls and pretend," says Wilk.
If you get up on the wrong side of the bed, does your work suffer for it? What do you do to get into a better mood?


Image courtesy flickr user Just Taken Pics
Kimberly Weisul is a freelance writer, editor and consultant. Follow her on twitter at
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    Kimberly Weisul is the co-founder of One Thing New, the free email newsletter for smart, busy women. She was previously Senior Editor at BusinessWeek, responsible for all coverage of entrepreneurship and for launching BusinessWeek SmallBiz, a bimonthly magazine. She is also a freelance writer, editor and editorial consultant.