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Published: Monday, 3/19/2007

Grumpy employees not all bad, prof says


Have you ever been told that your negativity is souring the workplace? Or maybe you are sick of that constantly grumpy employee?

It turns out that negative, pessimistic people can be good for the workplace, according to Jing Zhou, a Rice University associate professor who studied the effects of good and bad moods on the workplace.

She found that experiencing both positive and negative moods is best for worker quality and creativity. This may seem to go against preconceived notions about the impact of negative moods on performance, but philosophers have long stressed the importance of balancing nature s darker and lighter yin and yang forces. Both, Ms. Zhou s work suggests, are necessary for optimal productivity.

Good moods enhance expansive thinking, which can be especially useful when brainstorming strategies and future plans, she said. But bad moods demonstrate a healthy discontent with the status quo and a need to fix it qualities that also are useful for creative problem-solving.

Negative moods signal a problematic state of affairs and propel us to systematically address the problem and fix things, she said. Thus, they encourage a bottom-up, detail-oriented, analytic approach to understanding the situation.

In fact, good moods can be problematic because they may prevent employees from accepting a need for further effort or change.

Positive moods inform us that all is going well and the environment is unproblematic, thereby prompting looser, less systematic, and less effortful information processing, she said. So while good moods facilitate creative brainstorming, ideas generated when in a good mood may not be the most suitable for the challenge at hand.

Another recent study, at the University of Toronto, also showed that employees in a bad mood may have higher focus for tasks that are more mundane or detail-oriented. In contrast, good moods can lower a worker s attention span and increase the possibility of distraction.

So does this mean that we should all be grumpy at work?

No, Ms. Zhou cautions. Good and bad moods both need to be experienced to balance each other out.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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