Your summer cold isn’t the only thing you can spread to your co-workers.
Your emotions can also be contagious.
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That means the bad mood you’re in not only affects your work performance, but it can also influence your team.
“Emotions spread like wildfire,” said Annie McKee, author of “How to Be Happy at Work.”
Negative emotions can be detrimental to the office: they can hurt productivity, morale and quality of work and can increase absenteeism.
“You don’t perform as well being in a bad mood,” said Sigal Barsade, professor of management at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. “There’s a certain part of your mind focusing on the negative that takes away from your cognitive ability and you aren’t even aware of it.”
The good news is positive emotions are just as contagious and can create a more productive and harmonious work culture.
Research shows that being in a good mood not only boosts creativity; it can also lead to better decision making.
“You can do math better and have better analysis and decision making than if you are in a negative or neutral mood,” said Barsade.
But life happens: we spill coffee on ourselves while sitting in a traffic jam, we have family problems or we deal with an unhappy client that is lashing out unreasonably.
And we can’t always be in a good mood.
There are ways that we can keep our emotions from spreading, however, and managers should be paying attention to their employees to make sure their team isn’t being unwittingly infected.
How you can shift gears
A manager’s mood can have a big impact on their employees’ moods.
“When a manager is having a particularly bad day, you are likely to start having a bad day,” said McKee.
Recognizing your bad mood is step No.1.
Trying to hide your bad mood by not talking about it doesn’t always work. Most emotional communications happen through body language, facial expression and tone, explained Barsade.
“It can take a bigger cost on a person in terms of burnout,” warned Barsade. A deep acting approach, where you use positive memories, thoughts and imagination to try and shift your mood, can be more effective.
Going for a walk, meditating or deep breathing can also help turnaround a bad mood.
Being transparent about your bad mood is also helpful.
Tell your team that you had a tough morning with your kids and then faced a horrible commute and that you need a few minutes to regroup. This not only prevents workers from worrying about whether they are the source of your bad mood, but it also sets an example that it’s OK to talk about emotions in the workplace.
When you see a bad mood spreading
Managers need to be on the lookout for team members that are spreading a foul mood.
“One bad apple can drop productivity and morale significantly,” said Liz Fosslien, co-author of “No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work.”
“If you are the manager and someone seems unhappy or frustrated…it is incumbent to have a conversation with the person to protect the team.”
The key is to approach the situation with compassion and in private.
“Don’t do it when they are triggered,” recommended McKee. “Choose a time carefully…you don’t want them to feel threatened or scared.”
The conversation should be genuine and focus on how to help the employee.
“Employees respect and appreciate it when managers pay attention to their emotions. It shows they care and see them as people,” said Barsade.
When things in the office get particularly stressful for everyone, like a big project on a tight deadline that has everyone working long hours, a manager shouldn’t shy away from addressing the issue head on.
“You can speak to emotions without getting emotional,” said Fosslien. She suggested sharing how the situation is affecting you as well, while also detailing a path forward to meet the deadline and plans to celebrate when done.
If an employee starts venting and it’s overtaking a meeting, the manager should step in and pivot the conversation to be more productive and push for action.
“Don’t lean into the conversation — ask what could have been done better,” suggested Fosslien.