Your boss has got up on the wrong side of the bed and, although he hasn’t said anything to you yet, you can feel it in the air. The atmosphere feels tense and heavy, and everyone seems to be taking extra care not to say or do anything that could make the situation worse.

People go out of their way to try not to be annoying rather than to do their job well. This is how, according to research, the bad mood of leaders at work affects us: creativity begins to fade and productivity declines.

What will I read about in this article?

How does a leader’s bad mood influence the work of his or her team?

When Marta wanted to look for a new position, it was clear to her that a good atmosphere in the office was a prerequisite. “I remember my former boss always grunting or talking in a derogatory way,” she says of her old company. “He made me feel insecure and stressed at work.  It was hard to concentrate and I had no motivation to do things well.”

As discussed previously in this article, working with people who are in a bad mood or who do not manage their negative emotions prpoerly can affect both the individual’s performance and that of the rest of the team.

Moreover, according to Gallup‘s latest Global State of the Workplace report, 44% of those considering a change of job would reconsider their decision if there were improvements in organisational culture, such as closer and more open communication with leaders or an environment where people respect each other more.


“Forty-four percent of those considering a change of job would reconsider their decision if some aspects of the organisational culture of their company were improved.”


Research has found that emotions influence not only employee well-being and engagement, but also business outcomes such as productivity and profitability. Consequences that affect smaller companies as well as larger organisations, and are relevant to everyone from management to frontline employees.


The epidemic of emotions: is it possible to spread bad moods at work?

Bad moods at work and negative emotions in general are part of the range of feelings that people experience, they’re intrinsic to our very nature. And no, it’s not because we have a team in our charge or a position with more responsibilities that we feel less. In fact, that extra burden can stress us and provoke those negative moods that affect the general atmosphere of the organisation.

Besides, did you know that bad moods can be contagious? You don’t have to argue for it to happen. It’s something to do with mirror neurons. Our brain picks up on the facial cues and interactions of others to understand what’s going on, to be more empathetic and to coordinate with others, as pioneer in the field Elaine Hatfield of the University of Hawaii explains.

It’s similar to what happens with yawning. We see someone yawning and unconsciously, almost mechanically, we imitate them. In many ways, it works in the same way with emotions. The big difference is that a yawn lasts only a few seconds, whereas when we catch someone else’s emotions, they stay with us. We carry them from home to the office and vice versa, running the risk of passing them on to other people, as if they were a virus.

But fortunately, this connection also applies to positive emotions. So good moods can also be contagious. As mentioned in this article in El País, if we surround ourselves with people who are happy, we are 25% more likely to be happy ourselves. However, according to Brandon Smith, a consultant and therapist and expert in well-being at work, negative emotions have a much more contagious effect.


“Luckily, good moods are also contagious.  If we surround ourselves with people who are happy, we are 25% more likely to be happy ourselves”.


In this 2016 TED Talk, Brandon Smith discusses negative and positive emotional contagion in the workplace. He argues that it is leaders who transmit emotions most strongly to the rest of the team and that it is more likely to happen with negative emotions.

For the expert, he antidote is to spread more positive emotions. The leader must position himself as a “positive emotional driver” for others at work and offer at least three positive things (in the form of smiles, positive comments, congratulations, etc.) for every negative expression that is shared (a criticism, a frown, etc.).


Reflections on how to foster a positive emotional culture in the organization

The world needs better leaders. People who understand how emotional wellbeing and a healthy organisational culture can be the foundation for business success.

Sigal Barsade, currently the Joseph Frank Bernstein Chair in Business Management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, studies the well-being of people through organisational behaviour.


“Leaders are the ones who transmit emotions most strongly to the rest of the team, and that is more likely to happen with negative emotions”.


Through his research, Barsade has discovered that a company’s emotional culture is actually communicated non-verbally: in people’s facial expressions, tone of voice and body language.

Experts used to think that not being able to express exactly how you feel can lead to burnout and emotional exhaustion. But more recent research has shown that it actually depends on which emotions are expressed or repressed. For example, when you amplify positive emotions, you have less emotional exhaustion. In a way, what Barsade proposes is “fake it till you feel it”.

Negative emotions have a really important protective function: they help to highlight problems or the need to fight an injustice, says the researcher in this Harvard Deusto interview, and become a factor that motivates people to resolve adverse situations.

jefe de mal humor

Expressing and feeling negative emotions about specific situations and then moving on to resolve them is vital to a company’s success. But it is essential to remember that positive emotions are often much more productive. They can boost motivation, collaboration and creativity among teams.

An environment where positive emotions are encouraged instead of bad mood can result in increased job satisfaction, productivity and employee retention. Ultimately, this can lead to better results for the company. Therefore, while negative emotions should not be ignored, it is essential to cultivate a positive and encouraging work climate.