It’s extremely challenging—and all too common—to work in an environment where the tone is set on a daily basis by the boss’s mood. Most of us have been in work situations where we know when the best time to approach our supervisors is—when they are more likely to say yes, give helpful feedback, or respond positively. We also know when to stay away from them, tiptoe around their office, and remain invisible until they come out of their funk.
We are all human and it’s impossible to expect someone to be in a chipper mood each and every day, however bosses are in charge because they have (in theory) proven themselves to be responsible, predictable, stable, and competent. This means that they should be able to successfully compartmentalize their personal and professional lives and treat their employees respectfully on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. “She’s in a bad mood today” simply cannot be an excuse that stops work from getting done. If you are the boss, work diligently to ensure that your mood doesn’t negatively impact your employees. Negativity can have a serious impact on the work environment. As humans, we are equipped with mirror neurons that explain feelings like empathy. Think about watching the Olympics—do you get tense watching a gymnast on the balance beam? Basically, these neurons help us to make sense of phenomena around us by allowing us to watch an action and potentially prepare to perform that action (or to respond appropriately). This is why some people can make us feel happier or sadder by their mere presence. The bad moods of others can actually put us into a bad mood. They can drain our energy and suck our motivation. It’s neuroscience. Therefore, the person in charge at work has a responsibility, if they want their employees to be productive and satisfied, to set the emotional tone in the office.
If you aren’t in charge and you find that your boss is often negative or in a poor mood, then you have to take actions to prevent those mirror neurons from dragging you down. Here are some tips:
- Do your best to compartmentalize. We spend a great deal of our lives at work but that’s not all there is to life. If your boss is particularly sour, remember that you get to leave at the end of the day. Make plans to do something you enjoy.
- Role model positive behavior. Congratulate others on a job well done. Laugh. Go out for lunch and get some sunshine. Thank people when they are helpful.
- Discuss your concerns. A lucky few of us have bosses that may actually be receptive to constructive criticism. Choose your words carefully. Let your boss know that you respond best to positive reinforcement in addition to understanding opportunities for improvement.
- Build a team. If your co-workers also feel uneasy in a challenging work environment, join efforts to create a more positive office. This might mean providing the optimistic outlook necessary to get the job done or just creating a weekly group lunch where you can enjoy one another’s company.
- Determine when the line has been crossed. If your boss is so negative that it crosses the line into abusive behavior, talk to your HR department immediately.
- Find a new job. If the climate at work is toxic, it may simply be time to find a new job. Life is too short to be miserable