Shhh! Do you hear those painful cries and sighs emanating from behind company walls?  Those aren’t from the goblins and witches but employees and managers. The reason: It’s annual performance review time!

moody managersAs if the mere mention performance reviews isn’t enough to set off a passionate debate over their value, recent research on how moods drive decisions should add fuel to the fire. And it’s not like the controversy needs any additional help.

Over the past several years performance reviews have been bashed and beaten, slandered and slashed.  But despite attempts to improve the process, they are still considered more trick than treat. In fact, the employee performance appraisal process, especially when conducted just once a year is one of the most dreaded functions of a manager and most stressful times for employees.

A recent article in The Atlantic focused on the effect consumers’ moods had on restaurant reviews.  The author suggested that the relationship between the best and worst reviews had as much to do with the weather as it did the quality of the restaurant experience. To this point, the author suggested “Yelp review are accidental weather reports.”

While the weather outside shouldn’t affect a dining experience inside, it does according to Georgia Tech and Yahoo Labs. The weather it turns out affects a person’s mood.  And while studying moods seems to have more relevance for psychologists than managers, it might be a bit hasty to dismiss the impact that a manager’s mood might have on employee performance (and vice versa).

Moods as it turns out shape a person’s focus and his choices. Negative moods can lead to procrastination of important tasks.  Since negative moods can be brought on by random disruptions and unanticipated challenges, it makes sense that many people are finding them in a discouraged state.  But procrastination of in-your-face challenges rarely fixes anything; many people just dig themselves a deeper hole…and do everything within their power to invite others to join them.

So what does this have to do with performance reviews?

Conducting employee performance reviews is frustrating and challenging enough, even with a clear head and positive mindset. When both the manager and/or employee are on edge and possibly not in the best of moods, the quality of the review and the discussion that should follow is compromised if not tainted.

While still entrenched in early research using the Quality of Motivation assessment, I’ve spotting an interesting if not disturbing trend – quite a few participants including executives, managers, small business owners, and employees are pretty moody these days.  For example, one factor measured is motivational stability.  Scores of 30 or higher indicate the person can tolerate greater variations in life’s “ups and downs.” Scores less than 30 indicate more frequent and rapid changes in mood and outlook, which may induce stress. Several participants had single digit scores.  A few “scored” zero. It wouldn’t take much of a disruption or setback to stimulate an outburst or general malaise.  In other words, low motivational stability is an indicator of moodiness.

So back to performance reviews… How likely is it that a cloudy day, a restless night, a child’s bad report card, a pet urinating on your new couch, or your spouse using your favorite hairbrush to brush the dog could impact a manager’s assessment of an employee?  How likely is it that a minor personal incident, completely separate and unrelated to an employee’s actual performance, could negatively impact an employee’s review.  Pretty good!  That’s scary considering that a bad review could derail a career, stall a promotion, negate a salary increase…or even lead to termination.

People, especially business people, seem to shrug off the impact of moods on the workplace.  If moods just impacted happiness at work, maybe you could blow it off to “everyone has a bad day” or “ignore him, he’s always moody.”  But when the mood of one person affects the current and future performance and even livelihood of others, it deserves more than the cursory and fleeting attention.

A bad mood can breed distrust.  It can lead to disengagement of the workforce. It can set a negative climate. And when one bad mood collides with another, it doesn’t rain but it pours.

It’s likely impossible and surely unrealistic to expect that everyone will be in a good mood all the time. But it’s equally detrimental and even sometimes toxic to the bottom line to tolerate and even excuse individuals whose emotions and behavior can switch gears with little or no provocation.