The wrong side of the bed: how mood affects team performance

Sunday, October 18, 2015 - 20:46

Guest post by AIM Senior Research Fellow Dr Sam Johnson

‘Genius is the ability to renew one’s emotions in daily experience.’Paul Cezanne

G’day.  How are you?  Are you feeling good today?  Or is it one of those days…?

You know the days I’m talking about, when things go from bad to worse before lunchtime?  On those days, it doesn’t matter what you do, being effective at work is a memory, albeit a recent one. So is being happy.

It’s hard to be effective at work when you’re feeling down.

Doing a good job often coincides with feeling good.  But what comes first?  The positive mood or the effectiveness?  The mood may not come first every time, but I guarantee it’s a regular precursor.

That’s a little unrealistic.  Will the boss accept a shoddy job just because you’re feeling down? 

Yet the truth remains.  Positive emotions support effective performance.

Every day at work, we experience things that make us feel good or bad. As these occur they influence our attitude, behaviours and performance.  

We all experience these events.  But do we also cause these events to occur? If you’re a manager, it’s a safe bet that you do. We all do.  But everything a manager does has a ripple effect and sometimes these are less obvious.

I can hear the groans:  ‘Who cares?’  ‘Get over it’!’ ‘Not my problem how you feel!’ ‘Leave your emotions at home!’ 

Ah, denial! The power of believing that we don’t need to worry ourselves with how people feel at work.  They’re here to a job after all, not to feel good!

The truth is that how people feel at work does fall under the managers’ responsibility and to quite a significant degree.

There’s a great study from a few years ago (2011) that looked at the impact of the start of day mood on people’s performance at work. 

Start of day mood. Not just any mood you experience during the average working day, but the mood that begins the working day.  Apparently this mood matters more than others when it comes to doing a good days’ work.

The mood we begin the day with is a primer. It influences how we think and feel for the rest of the day.  And emotions are powerful influences on the way we think and act, both immediately and in the long term.

People who are generally in positive moods tend to:

  • be accommodating of events
  • see solutions to problems
  • understand people’s perspectives
  • make sound decisions
  • maintain healthy relationships

People who are generally in negative moods tend to:

  • interpret things in a negative manner – despite how positive they really are
  • be less creative and strategic when solving complex problems
  • be more likely to rub people up the wrong way
  • become upset by others
  • generate problems
  • become over whelmed by otherwise manageable issues
  • become locked into negative memories and forget the positives

That’s a pretty gloomy picture.  I know where I’d rather be.

What is interesting about this research is not just reaffirming that positive moods enhance performance, but the fact that the mood we begin the day with affects performance all day long.

For those of you tasked with inspiring and measuring others’ performance, this is good information.  The mood that is set at the beginning of the working day matters. 

If you’re the type of manager who believes in an early morning ‘boot’ to get people going; or if you growl at an already frazzled late-comer, be warned, you’re likely to have pushed their performance down for the rest of the day. Negative emotions, including fear, do not inspire performance.  Pulling the troops together for a 9am ‘talking to’ is not going to bring a day of hard work and high performance. Quite the opposite.  Not only will performance and relationships suffer, but people are more likely to take breaks and so productivity will drop too.

Set the scene at the beginning of the day with a healthy dose of positivity and optimism. Renew your emotions – and those of your staff and colleagues, every morning.

Give people a little leeway.  Throw them a smile.  Tell them a joke.  Be positive and uplifting. If it sounds a little too soft and fluffy to you, think if this as a productivity strategy.  A smile and a kind word will go a long way to bringing a high performance workplace. 

It’s pretty easy really.  Managers feel great when team performance is high. And team performance is high when managers feel great.  Start the day with a smile and reap the rewards.


Rothbard, N.P. and Wilk, S.L. 2011. Waking up on the right or wrong side of the bed: start-of-workday mood, work events, employee affect and performance.  Academy of Management Journal. 54(5) 959-980.