Your bad mood at the office is from you, not the job

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The mood you come to work with sets the mood for your workday. This is the conclusion of a study by Wharton professor Nancy Rothbard. (Shout out to Wendy for sending this link to me.)

This study is a rallying cry for personal responsibility. Rothbard challenges you to stop blaming your boss or your co-workers for ruining your day: “The mood you bring with you to work has a stronger effect on the day’s mood — and on work performance – than mood changes caused by events in the workplace.”

This is good news for people who accept personal responsibility for doing the things proven to create a good mood — like a reasonable commute, a morning visit to the gym, and, in a more broad sense, cultivating a sunny outlook. For people who don’t want to take personal responsibility for their happiness, you will have to figure out a way to discount this study in order to continue blaming other people at the office for your bad mood.

This way of thinking works on the other end of the day, too. Keep your commute short so you are not a wreck on the way home, and say hello when you walk in the door to start the evening out right.

This means, of course, that if your personal life is going well, you are likely to be happier at work. Because you are more likely to walk into work in a good mood: “Start-of-day mood may come from myriad sources including persistent life challenges and opportunities, positive or negative family experiences before leaving for work, or even the commute into work,” writes Rothbard. “Non-work and work domains are permeable, and mood often spills over form one to the other. Specifically, start-of-day mood might affect one’s appraisal of subsequent events.”

This is reason number fifty why the term “work-life-balance” doesn’t work. It’s not a balance so much as a synergy that we should aim for. Work and life have to feed each other rather than provide a counter-balance.

15 replies
  1. dave
    dave says:

    PLEASE don’t tell us to internalize our job dissatisfaction. While I agree that people can lose perspective and turn into bitter complainers, it is often important to acknowledge that the source of their anger and frustration IS valid and if there is nothing they can do about it (i.e. change the incompetent fools who manage them), they should need to find another job and get out of an environment that will ultimately destory their self-esteem. Perhaps we are saying the same thing–that taking responsibility for your happiness is what you need to do, rather than blame others. But it is easy to feel trapped in a job and then just blame yourself for not being more positive–and that’s a vicious, self-destructive cycle.

  2. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    I think we are pretty much in agreement: You need to take action to make your life enjoyable.

    That means either making the situation you have into something good, or changing the situation you have. But merely complaining about what you have is a no-go, at least for me.

    Not that I haven’t stayed somewhere and complained. I have. But I think we each strive to get faster and faster at identifying which situation can be improved and which should be abandoned.

    BTW, here’s a piece I wrote on this topic — about a time i took too long to get myself out of a bad situation:

  3. bauhaus_sea
    bauhaus_sea says:

    Absolutely couldn’t agree more. No one is going to make my job (or my life) for me. It all starts with me. This transcends over to personal life too. Sure, stuff happens, and bad knocks come my way. If i complain about these things instead of saying “here’s what i am going to do about it”, well, it’s my own fault then. If I am a killjoy and source of sour grapes, well who wants to work with that, be married to that, be friends with that, or related to that? Nope, I am responsible for my attitude just like I am responsible for how I come across at work. If I truly am working with or for the spawn of satan, then I need to move on. That’s only possible if I have that as an option. That option is only possible if I have taken care of myself financially. Taking care of myself financially let’s me move on! With a smile, of course!

  4. David Christiansen
    David Christiansen says:

    Here’s a thought that occurred to me as I read the comments and thought about my own work life: One key way to manage your own happiness is actively doing something to eliminate the things that make you unhappy. You don’t always have to quit your job – sometimes people use the mobility of today’s job market as an enabler to avoid confronting problems. While it is often an appropriate thing to do, we should not quit just because we are afraid to confront trouble. Sometimes we have to take a risk that can lead to change in the organization we belong to.

  5. JenK
    JenK says:

    Yes and no on the interacting with others at home thing. If I come home to a blaring TV, I want to hide in my room – just like high school.

    If I come home to a quiet, empty home, I have no pressure, no need to *do* anything. It’s one of the few things I miss about being single.

    I know, I’m insane. :)

  6. knockNrod
    knockNrod says:

    I would agree with this finding to a great extent, but there are a number of nagging issues that remain to be resolved. The study quoted indicates that peoples’ moods are effected to a greater degree in early morning, mood-setting events, but it doesn’t explore why. My personal experience in this regard is that people are more impacted by early events out of wish fulfillment. When something good (or bad) happens early in the morning, people have a tendency to view this as “It’s a good [or bad] day.” Not, “It’s a good [or bad] moment,” but an entire day. Five minutes into your day, and you’ve already decided how the next 23 hours and 55 minutes are going to be coloured.

    Having worked at Savannah River Site, where there’s hardly a chance to experience a good commute, I also know that I would encounter nothing throughout my workday but testy people. Even though I might be capable of living in the moment and avoid wish-fulfillment, when everyone around you is bound and determined to have a bad day, it’s hard to experience anything but a series of bad moments whenever you encounter such a group.

    Of course, in the end, I did take responsibility for my own happiness. I left.

  7. Rebecca
    Rebecca says:

    ‘Your bad mood at the office is from you, not the job’


    I drove to work in a perfectly lovely mood this morning. I sat down- logged on my computer, made a cup of tea, and still felt perfectly lovely.

    Now, however (and i’ve only been here two hours!) i am in a disgusting mood- and IT IS- oh it VERY MUCH IS the job…

    And the answer is not as simple as just leaving and finding something else. This job is too well paid to do such a thing. And i do have a second job (which pays hardly anything- but i’m doing it because it is interesting and fulfilling, only i only have time at the weekends to do it)…

    SO BLEH.

  8. MJ
    MJ says:

    Anyone who thinks this has NOT worked in my industry – it is hard to keep a great mood when a mentally ill narcissist is throwing coffee cups at your secretary’s head or having a screaming fit down the hall. And of course, most workplaces in my industry do not have “No Asshole” policies so this stuff is tolerated as long as the screamer is bringing in a few bucks. Welcome to the practice of law, folks, don’t forget to bring your bottle of Tums. If you want to keep your good mood, move to a place where management is responsible and colleagues are expected to behave as though sane (there are a few).

  9. Liz
    Liz says:

    well… I would have to disagree with this main article. I am in a perfectly fine mood on the way to work, but soon after I get there Im in a bad mood. Some mornings are worse than others. I think im just burnt out. I dont fit in here and Im sick of working with all males. I despise this crap hole city that I work for. Sitting on my butt all day gets so old and Id rather have a regular job. There are many other reasons why my job just drains me. I feel im getting dumber just working here. :sigh: im soo bored…

  10. abdo
    abdo says:

    (><) i agree with the previous comment 100%, and the problem is that u can’t leave cuz they pay good salary and there is no other chances, i also blame any manager who don’t care about his employees happiness & relaxation in work or discuss the problems with them, i do envy google staff & offices :&

  11. Sardar Mohkim Khan
    Sardar Mohkim Khan says:

    It is so true. But i think that is so because people just use it as an escape goat. The only thing that make your workplace good or bad [inclusive of your work] is what is your input and how enthusiastic you really are.

  12. K
    K says:

    I couldn’t agree with this post more.

    People need to realize they are in control of their happiness. You choose to let work wear you down…you let it get to you, and you choose to stay there and take it.

    Yes, staying at a company that makes you miserable because of the “good pay” is your CHOICE.

    Find another perspective, or if your job is really that horrible, find another one.

  13. Mitchel Vander Poel
    Mitchel Vander Poel says:

    If there is one thing I learned is not being in a bad mood or complaining about something that shouldn’t be anyone’s business(letting alone that its your own business and not anyone elses.Or, for that matter, people or(we don’t want to hear about it)

  14. Amy Hooker
    Amy Hooker says:

    My issue is that when my employees come to work in a bad mood and treat the customers with disrespect. I also believe that you create your own happiness. Bringing your bad mood into the workfield is unprofessional and should not & will not be tolerated. If the employees mood is going to be affecting the business and losing customers, then I think it is time to re-look at how much the employee wants or likes their job. In my field customer satisfaction is the key to our success. I want every customer to walk away that this was the best time of their life.

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