Is Your Boss’s Mood Affecting Your Performance At Work?

The worst boss I ever had was a shouter. Sometimes he would be cheerful and encouraging, but other times he came to the office with a dark frown. Those were the days he’d single employees out, listing their perceived shortcomings so loudly, you could hear him down the hall. As soon as I saw his frown, my productivity dropped. I was too nervous to focus. I left the job when my contract ended, despite being offered a raise to stay on.

Every boss, manager and team leader has their own working style and office manner. Many demonstrate leadership and professionalism, but others are known for bringing their moodiness into the office. If you find yourself working less effectively, making more mistakes, or generally feeling less confident because of your boss’s bad mood, these strategies could help you cope – and maybe thrive.

#1 Don’t assume you’re to blame

In my first few jobs, my first thought when my boss was in a bad mood was always, “What have I done wrong?”

Obviously my boss thinks about me all day, to the point where my work is the largest factor in his or her general outlook on the universe, right? Of course not. Regardless, if my boss was unhappy, I found myself reviewing my latest work and replaying the past few days’ conversations in my mind, trying to find an explanation drawn from my work and my (often imaginary) mistakes.

Unless your boss has told you there’s a problem, it’s better to assume his or her mood has nothing to do with you, and go on with your day.

My light-bulb moment came when I began supervising my own team. Immediately after asking an intern to do something, my mind immediately turns back to my own work. I’ve got lots to do and – cue the light bulb – so does my boss. Minute to minute, I’m not paying that much attention to my intern, who I just assume is doing the work I gave. I assume she’s doing her work. If I’m in a funk, it probably has something to do with issues popping up in my own work.

Even the worst boss doesn’t think about you all the time. Unless your boss has told you there’s a problem, it’s better to assume his or her mood has nothing to do with you, and go on with your day.

#2 Keep your own balance

Letting your boss’s bad mood become yours is a good way to wreck what otherwise might be a perfectly normal day. Research has found that employees are more productive when they’re happy.

Find ways to keep your own balance at work, regardless of your boss’s funk. That might mean doing something fun on a break, reviewing a file of positive feedback you’ve kept for days like these, or doing a brief meditation session. Find what works for you and use it.

#3 Learn the best (and worst) times for interaction

Interacting with anyone in a negative mood can be stressful, and that stress can feel multiplied when it’s your boss. Pay attention to when your boss’s moods change to determine the best times for interaction.

Do meetings with certain people or about particular projects leave your boss frustrated and irritable? Is he or she generally in a better mood toward the end of the day, first thing in the morning or right after lunch? This may change, but getting a sense of better times to approach your boss can help reduce your own stress.

 #4 Find out what works and what doesn’t 

Of course, you could just ask your boss their preference. Having an open discussion about working styles and preferences can set the foundation for a more functional relationship. Are questions by email better, or would he or she prefer to have a chat? What sort of problems should you tackle on your own, and when should you go to her first? Before launching into things, ask, “Is this a good time?” Let your boss know if it’s pressing or something that can wait.

#5 When necessary, avoid your boss when possible

When your boss is in a bad mood, avoid him. This won’t always be possible, but some days it might be better to keep your headphones on and stick to email communication. You can also ask trusted colleagues to let you know when a better or worse time might be to speak to a mutual boss. Keep communication about your boss professional, but a quick text to say “wait til tomorrow” or “this morning’s good” can spare you some effort.

If you’ve tried your best and your boss’s conduct at work is still causing you an unreasonable amount of stress, maybe you should consider avoiding that boss entirely by finding a new job.

Ashley Kalagian Blunt is a writer and stand-up comedian. She’s written for McSweeney’s, Kill Your Darlings and Griffith Review. Her current project is How To Be Australian, a memoir. She runs the comedy website Full of Donkey and tweets at @AKalagianBlunt.(Main image: Mad Men/AMC)