As leaders we constantly watch over and protect the culture we have so carefully built within the firm. We focus on finding functional ways to build the morale within our team but are we always aware of the less obvious forces that can be so disruptive as to reverse all of this careful, painstaking work?
Wharton School’s Professor Sigal Barsade states that one of the most common threats to a company’s culture and morale is “emotional contagion.” He defines emotional contagion as co-workers catching other people’s emotions through subconscious mimicry to the point where they are convinced that the emotions are their own. If one colleague becomes worried about the organisation’s health or if he or she voices general fear, anger and anxiety about work, the mood can quickly spread. Since mood can be a powerful influence on performance, leaders need to be particularly vigilant and take steps to ensure this negative emotional contagion is contained.
It is important that leaders address the problem head-on. Usually employees often do not realise how negatively they are being perceived, or how this affects the people around them.
Barsdale indicates that the best insurance against emotional contagion is to create an environment in which positive emotions are encouraged. A strong emotional culture will make it clear that destructive, negative emotions are unacceptable and provide employees the power to self-regulate.
Do you have experience of culture and morale being destroyed or severely impacted because of emotional contagion? What other, non-obvious, factors have detrimentally affected your organisation’s culture and morale? How did you address these issues?