Several years ago, I was working on a team saddled with a pessimistic manager. He bullied and disparaged his employees and created a cold, unfriendly environment. When the supervisor went away on business, I experienced a palpable difference in the office. My co-workers and I were happier, chattier, and overall more relaxed than usual. Of course, when the unpleasant actor returned, we all tensed up again, and our spirits plummeted accordingly.
Most people probably have experience working at an organization with similarly low morale. Employees cry in bathroom stalls, brood through meetings, and complain about their bosses in whispers by the coffee machine. The more frustrated people feel, the less inspired they are to do good work, and productivity and creativity plummet accordingly.
Organizations can’t afford to ignore the problem and hope it gets better on its own. Instead, they need to understand that low morale is often an issue of emotional contagion—a virus that spreads from one person to another as quickly as the flu.
The spiral of negativity
Sigal Barsade, a professor of management at the Wharton School of Business, has searched for the core of this Bad Apple Syndrome. Her research on emotional contagion in groups shows that just one person’s thoughts, behaviors, and emotions can spread in a number of surprising and damaging ways.
Read more at Quartz.