Good Moods at Work are Productive Up to a Point

It is generally thought that creating a positive environment in the workplace leads to increased productivity for everyone. Surprisingly though, there comes a point when positivity in the workplace can actually harm your work environment and result in unfavorable outcomes.

A recent study (Lam, Spreitzer, & Fritz, 2013) examines the effects of positive affect within an organizational context. So what is positive affect, exactly? In this context, positive affect specifically means creating a feel good factor (with the help of incentives, salaries, team outings, etc.) among employees. This encourages them to remain motivated and take initiative at work, leading to higher levels of job satisfaction, which is beneficial to the organization’s overall effectiveness.


According to research, there are probably two broad explanations for the way positive affect shapes individual behavior.

  1. Being in a positive state stimulates an individual towards concentrating on the positives rather than the limitations of any given situation, which almost always results in a constructive outcome. (Broaden-and-Build Theory)
  2. Individuals in a positive state tend to feel satisfied by the world around them. As a result, they don’t act in ways that create change. They don’t want change, because they are happy. However, this can block an individual’s need to seek out better opportunities and stunt creativity in the long run. (Affect-As-Information Theory)


Putting together the two explanations, the current research paper suggests that too much positive affect in the workplace, in the form of stress-busters and entertainment, only enhances organizational effectiveness up to a point. Once employees take notice of how well things are running in the organization, they are likely to stop taking initiative and will become more complacent, taking no action to look for new ways of working. Interestingly, a complete lack of positive affect in the workplace also results in complacent behavior — the underlying reason being low levels of energy and motivation.


Based on these finding, it is imperative that employers create positive affect at work through the means of team outings, organizational celebrations, availability of stress-busters like board games, access to social networking, etc., in order to keep employees motivated and energized. However, a careful balance must be maintained to discourage complacency.

The key for organizations is to recognize when efforts to create a positive work environment stop increasing productivity and instead begin to become distractions. Maintaining a balance in the workplace can be achieved by management. They should seek feedback and be sensitive enough to recognize when the organization’s efforts to create a positive environment have gone too far.


Lam, C. F., Spreitzer, G., & Fritz, C. (2013). Too much of a good thing: Curvilinear effect of positive affect on proactive behaviors. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 35(4), 530-546.