We’re used to hearing about people getting sick at the office. Someone brings in the cold or the flu, and it spreads. But that’s not the only thing that goes viral in the workplace.
For a couple of decades now, researchers have been studying something called emotional contagion. It’s important for leaders to understand because of the effect it has on our organizations.
The latest findings show us why you have to keep a close watch on the mood of your team. Managed well, it can energize your team to achieve results. Managed badly, it can poison all your efforts.
The Plague of Rudeness
While researchers talk about “low-intensity deviant behaviors,” most of us know rudeness and negativity when we see them. The bad news is that rudeness and negativity spread like a plague in a team. They kill cooperation and slow down the work we do—and they’re on the rise.
Incivility at work “has been on the rise, yielding negative consequences for employees’ well-being and companies’ bottom lines,” warn researchers from the University of Arkansas.
After surveying people in the workplace, they found, “experiencing incivility earlier in the day reduced one’s level of self-control (captured via a performance-based measure of self-control), which in turn resulted in increased instigated incivility later in the day.” In other words, insults and slights frequently harmed performance. Worse, they provoked payback later in the day.
If this is happening to your team, by the time quitting time rolls around, people want to be anywhere but at work, and coming in the next day can be a drudgery.
You Already Have the Antidote
The good news is that you are not at the mercy of this plague. Why? It turns out positive energy spreads, too. We already know this intuitively, but it’s important to remind leaders because their emotions have the greatest impact of all.
Here’s how one employee described his boss to the Harvard Business Review:
She energized me because she loved her job and was, in general, a very happy person. She always came in with a smile on her face which created a positive atmosphere.
What would it take for your teammates to say the same about you?
5 Ways to Create Infectious Enthusiasm at Work
You can’t always be in a good mood, of course. But you have far more control over what your team picks up than you might realize. Researchers identified five ways in which you can spread positive energy to your team:
- Have a positive attitude. That doesn’t always mean flashing smiles everywhere. But it does mean realizing that you’re setting the tone and others will follow.
Create a positive vision. Leaders must communicate organizational goals in a compelling way. You’ve got to ensure the team sees reaching those goals is a real and valuable accomplishment.
Contribute meaningfully to team conversations. If you signal to your team that you respect them by meaningful engagement, they will do the same.
Be fully present and attentive. This comes down to honoring others. Encouraging these behaviors is critical to overcoming rudeness and indifference.
Celebrate success. When you reach important benchmarks, praise and reward the effort. It will boost the mood and maintain momentum.
“You are a source of relational energy as well as a recipient,” HBR reminds leaders. “When you generate relational energy in the workplace, your performance goes up.”
There’s an old saying about parenting: “More is caught than taught.” That’s true in the workplace as well.