I spent most of this month with that crazy flu everyone is getting? Have you had it yet? I hope not. It’s not fun. I heard of one workplace that had to close because the entire staff got sick.

That’s the problem with viruses, they like to spread. That’s also the problem with sick people when they come to work. Or coworkers who still haven’t learned to cover their mouth when they cough. On second thought, better get some more hand sanitizer today on your lunch break.

So think about this for a moment, we do things to protect ourselves from getting sick and when we ourselves get really sick, we usually stay away from work so we don’t infect everyone else. Yet there’s another virus that spreads and kills workplace morale and science has some pretty cool findings to get our attention.

It’s called Emotional Contagion.

The basic premise is that moods and emotions are contagious. In one study four separate teams were each asked to work on a budget allocation project. But the researchers added a confederate or actor onto each of the teams, trained to convey one of four different mood conditions:

  • cheerful enthusiasm
  • serene warmth
  • hostile irritability
  • depressed sluggishness

The groups that worked with the positive confederate enjoyed an increase in positive mood. They also cooperated better, and had less interpersonal conflict then the teams with the negative confederates.

Thanks Captain Obvious, I hear you saying, but managing for attitude is part of the job that some managers neglect. But as we see in this example and already know intuitively, mood is contagious, and some moods boost performance, while others hinder it.
So the question is, do you monitor mood in your workplace? If someone comes to work, coughing, hacking, and has a fever, you’re probably going to send them home because they’re potentially going to do more harm than good. But what if you thought the same way about attitude as you do about viruses?

Innoculate Your Team
The good news is you don’t have to send Jerry home because he’s acting overtly irritable, you just need to address his behavior and ask him to change. Think of that talk like the flu shot that’s going to protect your entire team. Everyone has a bad day from time to time but that doesn’t mean you should allow negative moods to persist, especially if those moods affect the dynamic of the team.

Reinforcing the Good
Similarly, when someone is spreading a good vibe, you want to reinforce that so the likelihood of it reappearing is high. “Hey Janet, I have to say I love your cheerful spirit, you’re making everyone’s day a little bit better. Thanks.”

So remember, mood is like a virus, it’s contagious.

One last thing, not all viruses are created equal. There’s something called a Super Bug. It’s a virus that’s particularly powerful. Well, the affect of emotion and mood on a team is multiplied when it comes from the leader. When you’re depressed, cynical or cranky, it subtly infects the entire team, but when you’re optimistic, cheerful and positive everyone experiences a lift.

And yes, I just called you a Super Bug.