Get into a good mood to improve output
A new study of telephone customer service representatives shows just how important it is for employees to start the workday in a good mood. Employee mood has a clear impact on performance, including both how much work employees do and how well they do it.
“We saw that employees could get into these negative spirals where they started the day in a bad mood and just got worse over the course of the day,” says Steffanie Wilk, associate professor of management and human resources at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business who conducted the study with Nancy Rothbard of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Their results appear in the Academy of Management Journal.
The study involved 29 customer service representatives who handled phone calls made by customers to a large U.S. insurance company. Over the course of about three weeks, the participants filled out measures of their mood at the beginning of the workday and two other random times during each day. At those two other points in the day, they also indicated how their latest customer seemed to them, such as whether they were rude, calm, insulting or cheerful.
Independent coders listened to the calls and also provided more objective ratings of customers’ moods as well as rated how well the representative handled calls. In addition, the researchers measured how many calls the representatives took each day, number of calls transferred, and the percentage of time that representatives were available to customers.
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The results showed that when employees started the day in a good mood, they tended to rate customers more positively through the day. They also tended to feel more positively themselves as the day progressed. However, while the start-of-the-day mood sets a tone, the results showed that employees’ moods could and did change, Wilk says. And the good news is that employees were more likely to see an improvement in a bad mood than the loss of a good mood.
In 40 percent of the cases, an employee in a below-average mood for themselves moved into an above-average mood after a call. “Positive customers were related to workers’ positive moods,” Wilk says.
Perhaps surprisingly, negative customers didn’t hurt employees who were already in a bad mood. “We call it the ‘misery loves company’ effect,” she said. “If you’re in a bad mood, it seems to help to talk to someone else who is feeling as bad as you. Maybe the employees were able to blow off some steam by reacting to rude customers.”
For these customer service representatives, a good mood generally meant that the quality of their work improved. A higher-than-normal positive mood was related to greater verbal fluency on the phone (minimal use of pauses in speech and fillers such as “um” and “uh” and less verbal fumbling, such as tripping over words or mumbling).
A higher-than-normal negative mood was related to employees doing less work: they tended to answer fewer calls and needed more breaks between calls when they were feeling bad. “Employees knew that they were being monitored and that their supervisors knew when they weren’t taking calls. Still, when they were in a bad mood they tended to be less available, which suggested they needed time away,” says Wilk.
The research has clear implications for managers—and workers: do everything you can to help your employees start the day in a good mood. “We’ve all heard of companies that start the day with calisthenics or some team-building exercise. Many of us laugh at that, but there may be something to it,” Wilks says.