We’ve all had the life experience where a group activity is going smoothly and morale is high… up until that one person walks in with “negative energy.” It’s like the spell of positivity and efficiency is lifted, and negative emotions spread throughout the rest of the group. How by a single person or small group of people who project their emotions onto the rest of the team, whether it be consciously or subconsciously.
As highly emotional animals, humans pick up on other peoples’ signals like body language and energy levels, and often their own experience will change as a result. This type of mimicry is called emotional contagion, and it can apply to both positive emotions as well as negative ones. In both cases, emotional contagion has important implications when considering effective teamwork strategies and organizational culture in particular.
Benefits of a Positive Workplace Culture
While we can imagine the detrimental impacts of negative emotional contagion, one study found group members subjected to positive emotional contagion “experienced improved coordination, decreased conflict, and increased perceived task performance.” The researchers point out how these group members come from organizations who use recognition dinners and other employee engagement ideas to purposefully create positive emotional contagion throughout their company.
Understanding how their employees are affected by the emotions of their coworkers and managers, some companies are choosing to use that tendency to their advantage by striving to create a positive emotional culture that sparks positive emotional contagion. Once the good vibes are flowing, employee recognition is a natural result, which then leads to increased motivation and employee engagement.
Cognitive vs. Emotional Culture
When you hear someone talk about work culture, most of the time they are talking about “cognitive culture” or the intellectual values and general guidelines for what is expected of employees. The other important side of company culture, however, is emotional culture. Because of emotional contagion, every company has an emotional culture. It’s up to management whether or not they consciously try to make it a positive emotional culture.
When emotions like anger and fear dominate the office atmosphere, performance and employee retention can suffer, resulting in disengaged employees. As this Harvard Business Review article discusses, even something like a list of rules on the wall can contribute to a culture of fear whereas decorative pictures of happy people engaging in social activities can play a part in a culture of joy.
Positive Workplace Culture and Recognition in Action
In one Forbes article, author Karl Sun explores the culture of gratitude he fosters in his company, Lucid. He points out how leading by example is critical and therefore calls for leaders and management to push past any initial discomfort in order to jumpstart the gratitude culture.
In addition, Sun highlights keys when expressing gratitude to employees such as consistency, authenticity, specificity, and humility. Importantly, he considers how avenues for recognition and expression of gratitude need to be in use in order for employees to actually reap the benefits of a culture of gratitude, which include increased job satisfaction and health, both physical and mental. Once proper avenues are in place, members of the office can slow down long enough to remember who/what they are grateful for, and contribute to the positive emotional culture by recognizing coworkers in an inherently contagious way.
Creating a strong workplace culture where positivity can thrive is a key to perpetuating organizational success. The more coworkers engage in peer-to-peer recognition and other relationship-building activities, the happier they will be, continuing the cycle emotional contagion.