The key to keeping your employees happy

Your moods at work—and the way you express them—may have far greater impact than you realize.

Who would have guessed that the song “When You’re Smiling” is evidence-based? According to management professor Sigal Barsade, not only do facial expressions transfer from person to person; so do moods and emotions. “If I smile, you’ll smile, but it’s not just mimicry,” Barsade says. “We actually feel the emotion.” What’s more, people don’t realize that they’re experiencing the mood because it’s been passed along; instead, Barsade said, “They own the emotion as their own.”

Wharton management professor Sigal Barsade details her research on emotional contagion with text bubbles on a white board behind her.
Wharton management professor Sigal Barsade details her research on emotional contagion. (Image: Wharton Magazine)

Most of us have observed the effect in our day-to-day lives: When another person smiles, we tend to smile, too. Emotional contagion has been recorded in humans as young as six weeks old. In the workplace, astute customer-service workers know that when they smile, customers respond in kind—and leave bigger tips.

Emotional contagion can also ignite anxiety and even have an adverse impact on group effectiveness. 

“The biggest feedback I get when I speak to employees about emotional contagion is that this explains so much about what’s going on at work between people and among groups,” says Barsade. “People have used emotional contagion to be more thoughtful about how they’re interacting with others, how they’re regulating their own emotions.”

Read more at Wharton Magazine.