What can telephone customer service representatives tell us about transforming our culture at Ohio State?
A new study of 29 customer service representatives who handled incoming customer phone calls shows just how important it is for employees to start the workday in a good mood.
Steffanie Wilk, an associate professor of management and human resources at the Fisher College of Business, conducted the study with Nancy Rothbard of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
In the study, Wilk and Rothbard found that employees’ moods when they clocked in tended to affect how they felt the rest of the day. Early mood was linked to their perceptions of customers and to how they reacted to customers’ moods.
And most importantly to managers, employee mood had a clear impact on performance, including both how much work employees did and how well they did it.
“We saw that employees could get into these negative spirals where they started the day in a bad mood and just got worse over the course of the day,” said Wilk. “That’s why it is so important for companies to find ways to help their workers start off the day on the right foot.”
Wilk’s study has implications for Ohio State faculty and staff.
“We have “customers” just like any organization – students and guests – and any faculty or staff member can come into contact with them at any point,” Wilk said. “Our mood affects that interaction, positively or negatively.”
Starting the day off right increases the chances those interactions are positive. As individuals, we can take steps to begin the day with a positive outlook. Consider taking steps to limit stress in the morning, such as giving yourself time to get to campus well before your first appointment.
Leaders also play a key role in helping faculty and staff start the day off right, and maintain a positive mood. Wilk recommends supervisors understand what affects how people walk in the door – what’s going on at home, and stress and strain outside of work affect how people perform at work. And, think about how what atmosphere they are creating when faculty and staff arrive on campus.
“As a leader, taking the time to understand the stresses and strains of your subordinates but focusing on the positive makes a difference,” Wilk said. “But it has to be more than lip service.”
Here are tips formal and informal leaders can use to help faculty and staff build and maintain positive moods:
Set a positive tone. Creating a positive tone helps faculty and staff develop and maintain a good mood. Focus on creating positive interactions. Meetings are one opportunity to set a tone with a larger group. Wilk points out how changing the generally expected tone of faculty meetings has made a difference for her.
“In most universities, faculty meetings tend to be low energy, and focus on negative topics such as governance issues, budgets and academic ratings. When I came to Ohio State, I never wanted to attend a faculty meeting,” she said. “Our faculty meetings have a positive, supportive tone, turning them into an opportunity to energize people and encourage participation. Now, I try to attend when I can.”
Allow for flexibility. When possible, allow faculty and staff flexibility to manage life; this reduces stress.
“When people feel like they can’t be a minute late, they start their day out worried and rushed,” said Wilk. “That sets the tone for the rest of the day.”
Connect everyone’s work to larger goals. Each faculty and staff member plays a role in achieving the mission of the University. When individuals know they make a difference, it increases commitment and morale. That, in turn, increases productivity.
“Help people tap into and believe in the good we do,” said Wilk. “Leverage dedication to Ohio State, our mission and our leaders to tie tasks to the greater whole.”
Values: Let’s Talk is a forum for engaging faculty and staff in discussion about increasing personal and organizational effectiveness through living our values.
We welcome your feedback. Transformation can happen at any level of an organization. If you know of someone who would be able to offer insight as an author, and as you see examples of how living our values is making a difference, please contact Kerry Francis at (614) 247-8737 or firstname.lastname@example.org.