The idea of “emotional contagion” is that one person’s good or bad mood can infect an entire organization. This is especially true when the good or bad vibe is coming from leadership. Studies show that people in positions of power can unduly affect the overall cultural feeling of an organization. How can leaders know they are causing a trickle down effect in their company? What should they do to turn negativity into a positive work culture?
What the Studies Tell Us
A researcher first proved the concept of emotional contagion in 2002 during laboratory research on group behavior. Researchers found that a group of people could experience improved cooperation, lessened conflict, and better overall performance when individual attitudes were positive and pleasant. Further studies revealed the impact of leadership on the emotions and moods of the people they were leading. It seems that negative attitudes or moods at any level of the business can spread just like the common cold. This is especially true for managers and leaders who seem to set the tone for the rest of the organization. Leaders exhibiting overwhelmingly positive attitudes have an undue influence on everyone else in the business.
Researchers called it “transformational leadership behaviors,” that spread from the top down. The studies showed that managers have a responsibility to manage team moods and attitudes in large part because it strongly affects overall culture and workplace productivity. One study showed that up to 30% of a company’s financial performance could be tied to workplace climate and the mood of their workers and leaders. Another study illustrated that 50-79% of how worker’s viewed their corporate culture was tied to the behaviors and actions of leadership.
When leadership is positive and upbeat, it affects the mood and productivity of their team. If the executive team is squabbling, the overarching culture could be toxic, leading to loss of employee morale and higher turnover. The studies tell us when managers are in an upbeat, positive mood, their employees will be, too.
Some characteristics and behaviors of a leader that can spread positivity across an organization include:
- Paying attention to the needs of each follower and providing them with coaching or mentoring.
- Supporting risk taking by seeking opinions from employees and challenging existing assumptions.
- Inspiring and motivating employees to do their best work.
- Acting as a role model for ethical behavior.
Organizations seeking to leverage the power of emotional contagion should select department leadership for their passion, enthusiasm and optimistic viewpoints. Along the same lines, they can look for team members who are positive role models for the rest of the business. They can also train leaders to understand how their moods affect others and help workers realize that bad moods are catching. Finally, creating a positive work environment by simply creating comfortable workspaces is actually something that can positively impact mood.
Struggling with a toxic work environment, or trying to find better talent?
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