Organizational Effectiveness: Workplace Culture

Like other organizational characteristics, we talk a lot about workplace culture without having a clear definition of what it really is. It is something that we know it when we see it, but have a hard time identifying its length and breadth.  Workplace culture is literally the environment that employee works in on a regular basis.  Culture is composed of the organization’s values, beliefs, as well as individual and collective attitudes and behaviors.  We all contribute to the culture of our organization through our actions and interactions.  However, the strongest source of culture arises from those in leadership positions and the environment that they create.

The benefits of a strong workplace culture include:

  • higher productivity;
  • better integration across the organization;
  • lower turnover;
  • higher levels of teamwork;
  • higher levels of employee engagement; and
  • less workplace conflict.

Most of us have an ideal of what the best place to work would be like based on our own personality, wants, and needs.  About six months ago while working with a group of employees that were concerned about the deterioration of their organization’s culture, I asked about their past and current culture.  They described their past culture as being similar to a big, close family: supportive, trusting, forgiving, and close.  When asked about the current culture, it was described as corporate, cold, and overly conflict intensive.  More than a few employees were lamenting the loss of the feeling that their job gave them.  In this example, it was interesting to note that little had been done by the organization to create the “family like” culture that employees longed for from the past.  It had organically grown as the organization grew from being a few people to being more.  Similarly, the most recent change was not planned, but arose from the stress the organization was experiencing from the slowing of growth, more challenges for management, and more demands being placed on the staff as resources diminished.  Basically, the organization came to grips with the fact that going back was not really possible and the current state was not desire.  So, the organization began the process of deciding what it wanted to be.

When working with culture, three core precepts are important to keep in mind:

  • Culture has to be coordinated
  • Culture is contagious
  • Silos of culture are common

Culture has to be Coordinated

Most organizations invest little more than conversation in culture.  However, a positive culture does not just happen.  Leaders in an organization have to decide what values and behaviors are important to the future of the organization and take action to communicate, support, and rewards those desired characteristics.  This investment is not short term.  Research has shown that it takes years to create a desired culture and a few months to destroy it.

Culture is Contagious

Ever the most determined new hire will eventually fall in line with his or her coworkers.  Culture manifests itself in how we behave and interact and over time most of us learn what is acceptable, advisable, and optimal.  If a behavior is rewarded, it will be repeated.   As leaders, we are constantly being observed and evaluated.  Since we set the bar for what is acceptable, employees will change accordingly.

Silos of Culture are Common

In most organizations that fail to possess a strong, centralized culture, different leaders develop their own workplace cultures.  These differences result in different standards of behavior, rewards and punishments, and overall values.  It is common to hear employees discuss the different cultures in the same organization.  This is damaging to an organization since it factionalizes the workforce, muddies the organization’s position, and creates opportunities for conflict.  How often have you heard one employee say that he is glad he works for this manager since he can work from home or leave earlier instead of another manager that is very strict and “by the book” on day-to-day things?

Workplace culture is critical to your organizations effectiveness and overall success.

Whatever It Is, I Didn’t Do It

I saw a bumper sticker yesterday on the back of a SUV that said “Whatever it is, I didn’t do it.” I laughed about it when I saw it and thought about how my kids begin any serious conversation by saying “it is not my fault, but…”  We live in age of forfeited accountability.  By forfeited accountability, I mean that we have been socialized to accept that blame, responsibility, or duty resides with others and not ourselves regardless of how large or small the matter is.  In politics, business, and even our personal lives, we have basically adopted the idea of everyone is less than perfect except ourselves.

I spoke to a friend a few days ago who was complaining about his son’s recent grades.  He said his son did poorly on a test and spent a considerable amount of time attempting to convince him that studying more would not have made a different and the circumstances surrounding the grade were outside of his control.  When the father asked how not studying sufficiently could be anyone else’s fault, his son replied that the light in the room, time of day for the test, and layout of the test had more to do with the poor performance than any other factor.

Accountability is an issue we hear a lot about today.  Whether it is failure of major components of our economic system without the notice of our government, firms failing to utilize sound business practices while standards are so easily circumvented even with multiple levels of scrutiny, or corruption reaching such high levels it becomes accepted as part of doing business, accountability is the one thing we demand to fix the issues.  It is ironic, that we call for accountability in one breath, but in the next we cover our gluteus maximus with all our might.

Although determining who is to blame may not be the most productive exercise, many times if something is not working, it is important to know what is causing the issue.  Several months ago, I conducted a session with a group of managers that were concerned about their unit’s poor performance.  The managers were extremely capable and possessed most of the necessary prerequisites for success, even in a down turned economy.  As we spoke, it became more and more evident that no one wanted to name any issue that might be hurting the performance of team.  This reluctance led me to ask why no one wanted to identify the root cause.  Several managers responded that “calling someone out would make everyone uncomfortable since it could happen to you next.” When I asked if the managers take the same approach with employees, the answer was “never, that is a manager’s job.”  The irony of the response struck the audience almost immediately.

As leaders, accountability is critical for our individual, team, and organization success.  The three things we should keep in mind to ensure that our organization is successful include:

  • CYA is not a good culture
  • Accountability starts at the top
  • Blame is not a tool

CYA is Not a Good Culture

Intentionally or unintentionally, a fair amount of organizations develop a culture of CYA or Cover Your A**.  Basically, a CYA culture ensures that every decision or action that turns out different than expected has an explanation that would allocate failure to the group as a whole thus preventing a single individual from possessing accountability or an unknown source that is almost phantom-like.  The extreme is the organization that holds numerous meetings before making the simplest of decisions to ensure that so many parties are involved, accountability could never be established.

Accountability Starts at Top

Employees tend to copy the behaviors they see on a regular basis.  Some of the emulation is unintentional or absorbed from the environment, while other behaviors are learned from interaction.  If the executive team holds themselves accountability the employees will do the same.  I recently worked with an association that employees were very accountable to themselves and each other in the past.  However, as managers abandoned accountability at the leadership level, employees migrated to come more in line with the organizational norm.

Blame is Not a Tool

Although accountability is critical, if it is nothing more than a method of blame or conducting witch hunts, then it will backfire and result in lower productivity, poor morale, and greater conflict.  Accountability is more than determining who made the decision, implemented the plan, or managed the process.  It is organizational characteristic that leads to systems and structures that improve decision making and a culture that accepts risk and failure as long as they operate in an environment of improvement.

Lessons from the Cereal Box: Prize Inside

One of my childhood memories is anxiously waiting to open a new cereal box to find the prize inside.  The cereal companies did a great job of combining a child’s natural desire to collect toys and fondness of sugar with selling their product. In order to ensure that you did not deviate from their brand, each type of cereal had one toy type or character.  So, if you wanted to collect something related to a specific comic book hero, you had to eat a lot of that kind of cereal.  Moreover, sometimes the same toy came in multiple boxes, so rare toys required making sure you had numerous boxes of cereal.

One of my dreams was to collect a whole series of the toys and be able to go to elementary school and show them off.  At six or seven years old, every box of cereal seemed to take forever to eat and my mother only shopped about once a week at the grocery store.  After growing impatient, I started to eat cereal three times a day hoping to speed up the process.  That still did not diminish what seemed to be an infinite supply of cereal in the large box.  When I was eight and had lost hope of collecting all of the toys, I went to the cereal aisle at the local grocery store to look at the pictures of the new toys that were in the boxes.  To my surprise, I found a boy I knew from school sitting in the floor with about six opened cereal boxes around him.  Some had spilled, others were dumped on the floor, and he was digging in another.  There was a small stack of bright colored toys next him.  His mom had failed to keep him with her and he was digging for the toys missing from his collection.  At that second, I thought he was a genius.  When his mom and the store manager came a few seconds later, I realized it might not have been so smart.

As leaders, we too dig in proverbial boxes for the prize.  Most of us have been involved in recruitment and selection on a regular basis.  A few of us might even consider our abilities to discern the best candidate as above average.  However, most will agree that interviewing someone for a short period of time is a relatively poor predictor of future performance.  There are three simple lessons we can take away from the prize in the cereal box marketing technique that should help us all at hiring the best candidates possible:

  • We don’t know what we are getting from the outside
  • We have to eat a lot of cereal to find the best prizes
  • Some really need the prize to sell the cereal

We Don’t Know What We Are Getting

Just as a kid can look at the back of the box and see all the toy possibilities, there is no way of knowing what is in the box before buying it and opening it.  Nevertheless, most kids know which brands hold on to the prized collectables the most and which ones are the most “fair.”  As leaders, we need to ask as many questions as possible and ascertain as many motivators, drivers, competencies, and characteristics that we can about the potential candidates.  Moreover, we need to make sure that our standard or uniform tools are sufficient to glean the best information from all types of people in each type of position.  The more we look and understand the better off we will be when we make decisions on who to hire.

We Have to Eat a Lot

Just like cereal, we have to open a lot of boxes or hire a lot of employees to determine if we have found the truly high performer that has the motivation, capability, and match to produce the results that we desire.  If we improve our ability to screen candidates, the chance of finding better employees goes up, but there is no perfect x-ray machine that allows us to look in the box in advance.  Clients on a regular basis talk about how a little improvement in hiring goes a long way and they are right.  Improvement is many times incremental, but critical to the future success of the organization.

Some Really Need the Prize to Sell

The only thing more disappointing than the wrong prize is that the cereal tasted so bad that you did not want to eat more of it.  Similarly, some candidates do a good job of saying the right things and pointing to a skill or capability that your organization really needs to hide the fact that the rest of their offering would not meet your standards.

Over the next month, we will explore a few of the facets related to recruitment with the hope of reducing some of the most common missteps we all experience.

Fight or Flight

How many times have you met with an employee about an issue and the response has been other than what you hoped for? Sadly, the typical response to criticism in the workplace is tuning the speaker out, running away, or responding with aggression.  This reaction to criticism comes from a very old human response: the fight or flight instinct.

The fight or flight response is our body’s primitive response to danger by preparing us for fighting a perceived threat or when the odds are not in our favor to flee from the threat.  Although bad news from a superior usually is not a threat to our survival, the body will react in a threatened manner when put in a highly stressful situation.  When considering stress in the modern world, workplace anxiety and performance is one of the top three big areas.

When the response starts, nerve cells activated and hormones (such as adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol) are released into the bloodstream.  Our body transforms from its usual method of operation to increased respiratory rate, blood concentrated in muscles, increased awareness, enhanced response time, reduced pain receptor conduction, and changed perception of surroundings.  All of these physical actions are related to our desire to assess the predator or enemy.

A related outcome of this transformation is that our rational mind is overridden.  Our mind and body becomes almost entirely focused on survival and deciding between engaging and running away.  If we imagine the world of saber tooth tigers or mammoths, then it makes sense that our rational mind would need to give way.  A great example is the scenes with people verses ancient beasts from 10,000 BC or Jurassic Park.  Even in our modern world, it is hard to imagine that the fear would not be overwhelming when confronting these types of threats.

So, how does this relate to when I receive a negative performance review, I do not do something right the first time and I am criticized, or my idea is shot down in a meeting?  Basically, the age old response mechanism is still present in all of us and activates in stressful situations that the body interprets as threatening.  The response may not be as great as confronting a saber tooth tiger, but it is still threatening.

How can we counteract this trait in our employees?

  • Understand it
  • Prevent it
  • Work around it

Understand It

If we understand that it is ever present, we can plan accordingly. Most of us have no interest in creating situations where the person fights or disengages due to feedback or criticism.  Our goal as leaders is to use feedback as a positive motivator.  We all have areas for improvement and the optimal outcome is acceptance of the concern and improvement.

Prevent It

We can prepare our comments and the environment to be less threatening to increase the chance that the response will not be activated.  Most psychologists recommend that the negative message be mixed with some positive feedback as well.  This reduces the level of stress and mitigates some of the fight or flight response.

Work Around It

If we see that the response has started, it is a good idea to reduce the impact.  Before the employee can act out of instinct, it is important to diminish the level of stress by making sure that the employee understands the comments, what can be done to improve, and the contribution that the employee makes to the organization.

The Truth is Deceptive

With the recently resolved US debt ceiling crisis, people have returned to talking about who owns America instead of will there be anything left to own.  As the media returns its focuses to the Chinese ownership of US debt, it was interesting to find out that only eight percent of US debt is held by the Chinese.  See the CNN article from July that summarizes the major ownership stakes: (http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2011/07/21/who-owns-america-hint-its-not-china/). In fact, foreign investors own around $4.5 trillion while US investors hold $45 trillion.

I thought it might be interesting to share the article with a few well educated and news suave people that I know to get their reaction.  Not surprisingly, the majority asked if it was really true and how could the result be so different from current public perception.  In about half of the conversations, the conclusion was drawn that talking about the other organizations and countries on the list do not make as strong of headlines.  The remainder agreed that people need someone to blame for the fiscal decisions as of late and domestic investors, local governments,  or the United Kingdom is not as blame worthy.

As I considered the conservations,  several elements that relate to how deceptive the truth can be came to mind:

  • People believe their own opinions more than facts
  • People do not always say what they believe
  • We need straw people

People Believe Their Own Opinions more than Facts

Most of us draw conclusions quickly and remain closely wed to what we believe.  As leaders,  it is tempting to default to what we know and hold tightly to what has been successful for each of us personally.  This same mindset yields the tendency of assuming if we arrive at a conclusion, it must be the right conclusion.  I worked on an employee termination case with a client a few years ago.  There was sound evidence against the employee related to a number of serious infractions of professional conduct,  but the manager refused to participate in or even discuss the termination process.  When I asked the manager for his reasoning,  he simply stated he did not believe the evidence and nothing would convince him otherwise.  As much as we want to believe something,  sometimes we have to step back and ask with are the facts.

People Do Not Always Say What They Believer

We live in a world that rewards filtered speech.  Although filtered speech can take many forms, the two most common include softening and positioning. Think how common it is to produce results with a quarter of your time and spend the other three quarters of your time developing a creative way to soften, wordsmith, or disguise the results.  A client gave me an extreme example recently about how they knew the organization was out of money,  but instead of figuring out how to increase revenues,  most of their time was dedicated to describing their shortcomings in a positive manner.  Position is used by anyone that wants to send a message different than what they believe for their own advantage.  The classic workplace example is the employee that says he or she does not want the promotion repeatedly when behind the scenes and in his or her heart that is exactly what is wanted.

We Need Straw People

If we are brutally honest,  we all seek someone to blame besides ourselves when the situation is more than we can accept.  In years of working with employees all over the US and abroad,  it is very rare to encounter an employee that equates his or her employment issues with something within his or her control.  Most of us look for someone else to link our anxiety to and place solutions outside of our own capabilities.  A common approach to allocating blame is to a select a dummy or straw target.

If things were truly at “face value,” life would be so much simpler.  As leaders,  we have to not only deal with the facts, but what the facts can and have been transformed into by those that work for us.

Disengagement: When It Seems All Wrong

Over the last several decades, engagement has become an accepted predictor of organizational success. Although increasingly leaders verbally confirm the importance of engagement, there is still considerable variation in understanding of what engagement encompasses, how it really works, and how to improve it in your organization.

In past posts, I have discussed the meaning and elements of engagement as well as examined how to measure and encourage higher levels of engagement.  However, we have only touched on disengagement.  In the simplest sense, disengagement is when an employ feels detached or removed from their job and organization.  When an employee is negative, distrusting, and disenchanted, the employee is disengaged.

What are some of the signs of the level of disengagement in your organization? Some of the most common characteristics include:

  • Presence of groups or cliques;
  • Regular conflicts and “acting out” when issues are minor;
  • Apathy toward the organization, team, and job;
  • Lack of trust in co-workers, supervisor, and management;
  • High levels of gossip or undermining;
  • Strong risk aversion and a desire to protect oneself; and
  • Low levels of productivity when capabilities are present.

We have all worked for organizations that experienced a certain level of each of these characteristics and have seen the negative results.

What can a manager do to improve engagement? Three simple steps that will significantly improve engagement include:

  • Make connections
  • Bring people together
  • Address individual needs

Make Connections

Solid relationships help prevent small things from becoming big things.  In the workplace, there are numerous stressors that can distract, aggravate, and demoralize employees.  Most of us agree that tough times are easier when you have people that listen and support you.  Although a leader should not be a friend to his or her employees, a positive relationship goes a long way to mitigating the impact of negative events or news.  Just as we maintain equipment to ensure optimal performance, it is critical that we maintain relationships with those we depend on to reach our goals.  If we want someone to feel they are part of something and included, it is critical that there is a connection or linkage at a personal level.

Bring People Together

Isolation is a dangerous precursor to disengagement.  Adversity is easier when people feel they are in the “same boat” or work with those that understand the situation and share the experience.  It is incumbent on leaders to bring people together with a common purpose, mission, and set of goals.  People want to feel part of something and the absence of this feeling can easily lead to disengagement.

Address Individual Needs

Although we have the collective need to belong and be part of something bigger than ourselves, we also have individual needs that must be met to feel engaged.  By getting to know those that work for us, we can identify those things most important to them from a professional and personal standpoint.  Once we know those things, it is incumbent upon each of us as leaders to jointly develop strategies to help them meet their goals.

A significant portion of workplace issues arise from disengagement.  If as leaders we can tackle this challenge, many of the counter-productive behaviors that we spend considerable time on will be diminished.  In other words, we can treat the disease and not the symptoms.

How Strong is Your Performance Culture?

Almost every organization talks, analyzes, and obsesses about performance.  We live in an age where we perceive that everything can be improved, enhanced, or amplified in one manner or another.  How many times have you bought the latest computer, flat screen TV, MP3 player, or other device and within what seems like days a newer and better model is released for the same or even lower price?  Most of us feel great about our purchase for that brief moment until we see the new device.  Once the new device is available, we start to question our choice, timing, and satisfaction with our purchase.  The heart of these emotions is the act of comparing.  In many ways, we react the same way about work performance.  Once we reach a new height, we almost always start looking at the next peak.  We start comparing where we are to where we could be next.  This desire to reach new heights driven by near constant comparison is part of what makes human beings so resilient, adaptable, and sustaining as a species.  Moreover, it challenges us to constantly find new and better ways to improve.

Although human performance has been studied for centuries much still remains a mystery. Although the details remain a mystery, the results are not.  According to INC.com, financially stronger companies (those with an ROI of 30 percent or higher) possess better defined performance cultures. Conversely, financially weaker companies (ROI of 9 percent or lower) under perform on culture (http://www.inc.com/resources/leadership/articles/20060901/musselwhite.html)

Figure 1: Performance Culture Factors

What are the big predictors of a strong performance culture? Figure 1 captures the elements most often identified.  Five hundred organizations were polled in 2011 by HCS to isolate the factors most important to their performance culture.  Strong leadership, employee engagement, and vision were the most important prerequisites for a high performing culture.  Recognition, learning, and goal focus or orientation made up a second tier with 75 percent of respondents agreeing with its importance.  More operational practices encompass the remaining factors.  Not surprising, these results tell us that performance starts at the top and closely aligns with the actions of those driving the organization.

Here is a simple quiz to determine the strength of your performance culture.  Please award one point for each characteristic possessed by your organization:

  1. My organization links organizational goals and objectives to group and individual duties and performance outcomes.
  2. My organization possesses an employee accepted system of assessing performance.
  3. My organization provides tangible and legitimate rewards to high performing employees.
  4. My organization recognizes employees that consistently meet expectations.
  5. My organization allows for two way feedback during the performance assessment process.
  6. My organization trains managers on performance measurement, coaching, and leadership.
  7. My organization empowers managers to create high performing teams.
  8. My organization develops employees to meet the organizational and individual goals.
  9. My organization clearly and consistent communicates the business rationale for major decisions.
  10. MY organization values the exchange of ideas, innovation, and creativity.
  11. My organization invests in developing management as well as leadership skills among our leaders.

How Engaged Are We?

Most of us recognize that an engaged workforce is a productive workforce.  However, as engagement has become the new “silver bullet” that empowerment was several decades ago, leaders as well as organizations are struggling to define, assess, diagnosis, and improve engagement.  A quick walk through the business section at any major bookstore attests to the current level of interest in how to harness engagement in your organization.

Like many factors that improve organizations, we want to find out how it works, apply it, and move on to the next thing.  At times, this linear approach limits our ability to realize all of the possible gains from a new way of thinking and managing.  We tend to learn just enough to apply a few basic principles and overlook the deeper value of the ideas.  In the fast paced environment we all work, this behavior is not surprising.  We all seek balance between what has to be done today, what can be done tomorrow, and what would be nice to do if we have time.

Figure 1: Engagement Scores

Given the importance of engagement, it is important that we give it a second look.  In keeping with this idea, I want to share with you a few basic, yet deeper elements of engagement.  Figure 1 captures the ranking of each of the major engagements factors in 30 large organizations surveyed by HCS in 2010.  Several important ideas come out of the results:

  • Not all factors score the same
  • Employees feel best about what they can control
  • Supervisors and coworkers converged

Not All Factors Score the Same

As shown in Figure 1, organizations possess different levels of success with different factors.  Of the organizations surveyed, the employee engagement factors score the best while organizational factors score the worst.  In other words, employees feel that their jobs match their expectations from an interest and skills standpoint, but organizations have not been as communicative, rewarding, or strategic as an employee would expect.  As we target what to focus on, there are different levels of need and potentially different necessary actions.

Employees Feel Best About What They Can Control

The level of engagement gradually decreases as the results move from the individual to coworkers and to the organization.  This is not too shocking since most measures of engagement, trust, satisfaction, or confidence decrease as the results shift from the work unit to the organization as a whole.  It is a human trait to trust those things that are most familiar to us and to commit our energy and time more to those things that are in our immediate environment.  Consequently, if an organization is phenomenal at organizational engagement and has issues with job engagement, then results will be very hard to improve to an average level.  Similarly, if an organization has done well at job and supervisor engagement, but failed at the organization level, there is less room to make up.

Supervisors and Coworkers Converged

Supervisors and coworkers score similar in the overall results, but do vary some across the individual respondents.  This result is interesting since in past periods, coworkers normally score better than supervisors.  For the lack of a better explanation, the increased anxiety and competition of the current economic situation has lowered employee coworkers as employers downsize and increase workloads.

Measuring Engagement

Recently I was asked about what is the best approach to determining what employees feel and think.  The client had conducted satisfaction surveys for a few years and found that most employees possessed an average level of ambivalence toward most things in the organization with the exception of pay and recognition.  Although this gave the client a basic understanding of employee perceptions, it was felt that the organization was not performing to its potential.

As we reviewed the past surveys, it became evident that the questions did a good job of assessing what I like and do not like as an employee, but did very little to identify those things that drive my commitment to the organization and its goals.  What the client needed to know was how well the leaders were engaging employees and what impact it was having on overall performance.   Our discussion revealed the advantage of assessing engagement over satisfaction since she needed to know more about:

  • actionable workplace elements;
  • linkages to desired outcomes;
  • what is really important to the employee in the workplace; and
  •  what impacts productivity and prevents thinking a satisfied employee is always a productive employee.
Figure 1: Engagement Factors

Research has shown that engagement is critical to productivity and should be the focus of assessing the current state of an organization on a regular basis.  Figure 1 illustrates the four core components or levels that make up engagement.

Job – job engagement relates to the degree to which my job is rewarding and challenging.  In addition, it pertains to how well my job leverages by skills and abilities and grants opportunities for skill and performance growth.

Coworker – coworker engagement accounts for the relationships that I have with those that I work with as well as how well we communicate and work as a team.

Supervisor – supervisor engagement encompasses all of the factors that an employee depends on a supervisor for: giving direction, setting expectations, and providing feedback coupled with the leadership ability and practices of the supervisor.

Organization – organization engagement accounts for the factors that allow an employee to successfully complete my job, such as strategic direction, alignment, resources, recognition, rewards, and communication.

In the next post, we will discuss what the four levels tell us about overall engagement.

Mood Magic: Dispelling the Grumpiness

This morning I started a focus group with a group of employees that looked unhappier than the average worker on Monday morning when the weather is nice outside.  All but one employee had the facial expression and body language of people that would rather be anywhere than discussing how the performance of their organization could improve. After introductions and discussions of the weather, we turned to the state of the organization and employee morale.  One senior manager made the comment that she really does not know how she musters the strength to come back to the job every day. She discussed how as her day progresses she is increasingly convinced that she should leave at the end of the day and not return.  She mentioned how before she goes home she just sits and contemplates writing her resignation letter.  However, something truly amazing happens overnight: she feels better about her job at the beginning of the new day and returns.

More than likely, most of us have experienced this renewal at one point or another.  Almost ten years ago, research conducted by Timothy Judge at University of Florida found that employee moods can literally change overnight (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/12/041203084136.htm).  According to this research, talking about your day with friends or family and a good night’s sleep play a key role in employee satisfaction as well as moods.  In order to reduce the potential reduction in productivity from bad moods, it is important to ensure that employees have the time to renew.  Research conducted in 2011 by Nancy Rothbard describes the cost to productivity of those employees that come to work without this renewal or those that arrive at work in a bad mood (http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/healthscience/behavioral-health/item/16611-bad-mood-affects-work-performance).  In her study with a large call center, the number of calls answered and how well issues were dealt with diminished considerably when employees were in a bad mood at the start of the day.

So, how can we improve the mood of others?

  • Start the day well
  • Address issues
  • Increase challenges

Start Day Well

Research clearly indicates that an employee that starts their day in a good mood is going to be more productive.  Even if yesterday was a bad day, it is important that the past be left behind.  Organizations have adopted a number of strategies to accomplish this from team activities, joint exercising, and reasonable work-life balance initiatives.  Most people begin their day with the stress of children, traffic, and other obligations, while breaking the routine even for a few minutes upon arrival at work can be very beneficial to the productivity of the individual and the team.

Address Issues

It is only human to procrastinate over those things that we do not want to deal with right now.  It can be as simple as giving someone bad news, reconciling with a coworker, finishing a report, or meeting with your boss.  As leaders, part of our responsibility and our own effectiveness relates to how well we can assist employees in this situation.  It is important that we advise employees to deal with those things that are impacting their moods.  As part of the resolution process, it may require listening to the issue.  This is an important part of letting something go for most people and is a relatively easy role for us to play.

Increase Challenges

People enjoy a challenge and it is common for someone’s mood to improve when there is a sense of purpose.  Although it might seem counter-intuitive to give someone a new assignment when he or she is having a bad day, the new challenge can change their perspective in a positive way.   As human beings, we seek fulfillment from what we do.  We want to feel that we have an important role and what we do makes a difference in some manner.