Moody Offices

The cliche of the stressed worker kicking the family dog after a bad day at the office may be true: staff who get into bad moods at work often bring those moods home.

The good news is that the opposite is true: good moods from work accompany workers home too. In a recent study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, researchers found that moods experienced by people at work spill over into their home lives.

Positive moods experienced at work, such as a sense of accomplishment, satisfaction and happiness, tend to make workers feel cheerful, upbeat and happy when they get home, said the study, written by Timothy Judge of the Department of Management at the University of Florida and Remus Ilies, of Michigan State University’s Department of Management.

Meanwhile, negative moods such as general irritation, dissatisfaction and anxiety influence a worker’s mood at home. And since moods are contagious, the bad mood can infect the whole family.

Since business success is predicated on worker productivity, job satisfaction, engagement and a desire to come to work, nurturing a positive mood in the office is a must as is reducing the potential for negativity.

The researchers indicated that the best way for employers to contribute to a positive work environment and reduce negativity is through their treatment of employees.

There are seven ways to guard against a negative work environment by creating psychologically positive working conditions:

1. Treat People Fairly.
Refrain from giving some staff special treatment but not others. Giving some employees kudos for a job well done while ignoring others’ efforts breeds discontent and resentment. Be inclusive. Strive to build an environment in which information, resources, and tools are shared. If a worker feels left out of the loop there’s high potential for him or her to become irritable.

2. Create and Adhere to Harassment and Anti-bullying Policies.
Organizations that take a positive approach to ensuring psychological safety on the job help create a good office mood. Having a sexual and professional harassment policy that highlights appropriate behaviours at work and describes the range of prohibited actions helps with worker contentment. Firmly disallowing inappropriate touching and sexual comments, stopping malicious gossip, teasing and bullying contributes to a positive mood at work.

3. Train and Encourage Open Communication Practices.
Helping staff learn to talk to colleagues when they have a concern, problem or feedback, encouraging the constructive airing of differing opinions and ensuring people follow up on difficult conversations with each other can change an office mood. Clearing the air and refusing to allow issues to fester reduces frustration and increases efficiency. Withholding opinions, being uncommunicative or giving colleagues hurtful messages causes negative workplace moods.

4. Create a Culture of Gratitude.
Being appreciated elevates staff mood. Getting a pat on the back or a thank-you demonstrates that staff matter and their efforts are noticed. A positive office atmosphere often results when people are encouraged to offer their appreciation to one another on an ongoing basis. Public displays of company gratitude and recognition at official events are important, but don’t forget day-to-day acts of gratitude. It’s hard to be grumpy when people like what you do and tell you so.

5. Celebrate Good News.
Have fun. Look at the bright side. Trumpet a win. Seeking opportunities to celebrate is important. Make an occasion of key milestones – the anniversary of a product launch, for instance. Too many companies experience a success and allow the moment to go by unacknowledged. Acknowledging a positive doesn’t need to take a lot of time— consider a cake, a toast or a luncheon to commemorate a company accomplishment.

6. Value work-home balance.
Organizations that involve employees in finding ways to balance their working and home lives contribute to staff psychological health. Asking employees about how their work life is affecting their home environment provides feedback to the organization. Inquiries regarding a person’s number of hours at work and whether work is being taken home gives insights into whether work is impinging on family time. Understanding that stressed workers bring their tension and frustration home is an important step in creating family- friendly company policies and attitudes. A positive work environment prevents staff from quitting at the behest of their families, reduces sick days and absenteeism. Family- friendly organizations are more productive and engage satisfied, and loyal workers.

While some workers may quit a job that puts them in a chronic bad mood, they need to choose the next one with care given that a bad job affects workers and their families. Be on the look-out for signs of a moody workplace—grumpy looking people, unwelcoming interview panelists, indifferent receptionists, apathetic sales floor personnel or burned-out customer service staff.

Knowing your personality type is also important in ensuring satisfaction at work. Judge and Ilies observed that extroverts tend to see the world optimistically and are often in a good mood. They seek positive interactions with others and tend to downplay negative events. Tense or anxious people, on the other hand, tend to highlight unpleasant situations and are less positive.

Realizing that your personality can affect your mood is important. Worriers should seek workplaces where they are almost certain to be content.

Extroverts should avoid minimizing the impact of office negativity on their mood. However, gregarious people satisfied with their jobs will find their optimistic outlook fueled by a positive work environment.

The idea that work and home are separate spheres is becoming increasingly outdated. Psychological research shows that the boundary between work-life and home-life is permeable, one’s work experiences affect home-based interactions while the moods brought home from work go back to the office with staff the next morning.

Staying in a positive cycle is essential to happier families and a satisfied and productive workforce.

Dr. Jennifer Newman and Dr. Darryl Grigg are registered psychologists and directors of Newman & Grigg Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development partnership. They can be contacted at

Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.

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