Does mood matter in the workplace? Do cranky bosses make employees more or less productive? Is it better, in other words, to be feared or loved?
All of these questions are answered in a new study by Sigal Barsade, an associate professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, and Donald Gibson, an associate professor of management at Fairfield University's Dolan School of Business. In their paper, "Why Does Affect Matter in Organizations?" recently published in Academy of Management Perspectives, the two scholars examine more than a decade of research dealing with mood and emotion in the workplace—and their findings are utterly devastating to devotees of the fear-mongering school of management.
Looking at studies of large companies and small companies, companies run by women and by men, their conclusion is clear. "The evidence is overwhelming," the authors write. "Expressing positive emotions and moods tends to enhance performance at individual, group, and organizational levels." Employee moods, they find, affect just about everything anyone does at work—job performance, decision making, creativity, turnover, teamwork, negotiations, and leadership.
These findings are of particular interest to small-business owners, who tend to have more control over their work environments than managers at larger companies. In one recent study of sales associates at small retail stores, Barsade and Gibson note, leaders' positive moods were directly correlated with employee behavior and turnover rate. The better their boss's mood, in other words, the more employees stuck around.
In another study of 220 employee-customer encounters at a coffee shop, a different group of researchers found that the more employees smiled, the more customers smiled—no matter what the customers' moods had been like when they walked into the store. In a study of small shoe stores, researchers found that the more positive the environment in the store—meaning the more eye contact the employees made and the more they smiled—the longer customers tended to shop. The "happier" the store, the more customers said they would be interested in shopping there again, as well.
The flip side of this is also true. When a boss is in a bad mood, employees tend to be in bad moods, too, and turnover increases. Of course, no one wakes up every morning on the right side of the bed. But for managers, the authors say, it's especially important to stay positive—or at least to avoid showing their bad moods to their employees—even if they have to fake it. "Leaders must substantially regulate their emotions," write the authors.
Bottom line: Good moods tend to be good for business. If you've ever had a screaming tyrant for a boss, this may not be all that shocking. But Barsade and Gibson make it clear that there's no point in denying it anymore. Happy workers are productive workers. Machiavelli was wrong. It really is better to be loved than feared.