New Research Shows Impact of Team Mood on Productivity (and How MoodHacker Can Help)

Negative emotions, like yawning, can be contagious and in a workplace, this can be both disruptive and damaging to the bottom line. Researchers at Software Advice, an online business software recommendation service, recently conducted a survey of over 1,500 working adults to see if negative emotions in the workplace impacted their personal mood and performance.

As part of this research, Software Advice Managing Editor Noel Radley interviewed Dr. Sigal Barsade of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and Dr. Donald Gibson of Fairfield University, who study the impact of mood on productivity. Dr. Barsade explained the phenomena of “emotional contagion,” when group members “catch” each others’ emotions “like they would a virus;” a form of mimicry that triggers an internal, physiological response which influences peoples’ attitudes and behavior and ultimately impacts their performance.

Additionally, Radley reports, “Most respondents reported that, when faced with the negative emotions of themselves or others in the workplace, both their mood and productivity would be negatively impacted (75 percent) to varying degrees. The remaining 25 percent claimed they were not at all impacted by experiencing negative emotions.” She continued, “Drilling deeper, we compared the impact on productivity versus on mood for those who said they would be impacted. Our data suggest a correlation between the two. Reports of “significant impact” to mood and productivity, for example, are within three points of each other: 21 percent said their mood would be significantly impacted, while 24 percent said their productivity would be significantly impacted. Reports of a “moderate impact” were similarly close, with 22 percent reporting their mood would be moderately impacted, versus 27 percent for productivity.”

Most employers take the emotional and mental health of their employees very seriously and there is good reason for it. It directly impacts their efficiency and profitability. Major depressive disorder is one of the most prevalent mental conditions in working-age adults, with estimates for major depression of 16.6% for lifetime occurrence and 6.7% for a one-year period.1-2 The prevalence of subclinical depression is equal to or greater than major depressive disorder, with lifetime rates up to 26% and annual prevalence of 5-10%.3-4 Subclinical depression is associated with a 2- to 5-fold increased risk of developing full-syndrome depressive disorders.5-7

Depression-related costs exceed $83 billion annually in the U.S., with more than half incurred by employers in lower productivity, absenteeism and disability.8 Each year, U.S. employers lose over 27 workdays per depressed employee, totaling up to 225 million lost workdays per year.9 Interventions that reduce the performance-impairing symptoms of subclinical depression and prevent the onset of major depression can improve employee well-being, while reducing healthcare costs and improving productivity.10

To help address this need, ORCAS developed MoodHacker, an empirically validated approach for treating mild-to-moderate depression on a cutting-edge online delivery platform to reach a wide audience of workers through employer-sponsored benefits. MoodHacker combines key skills from the validated Coping with Depression CBT skills-training program,11 with positive psychology strategies12 and persuasive technology.

MoodHacker aims to activate and engage employees in positive cognitive and behavioral skills to improve their mood, reduce depressive symptoms, and prevent escalation to clinical depression. The intervention guides users to track their mood and mood-enhancing activities, raising their awareness of the influence of daily activities on their mood.

More than a tracking tool, MoodHacker encourages self-management through a practical, real-life, and holistic intervention approach. Healthy habits that encourage physical activity, sleep, nutrition, and social support are woven into the user experience. Personalized messaging and relevant feedback about what is working encourages users stay on track. It’s also chock full of helpful resources, such as animated videos and articles.

The good news is that positive emotions are also contagious. Employers can help cultivate a positive, supportive, and ultimately more productive workplace by offering tools like MoodHacker to their employees as part of their health care or employee assistance benefit package.





  1. Kessler, Berglund, Demler, Jin, Koretz, Merikangas, et al. (2005). Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62, 593-602.
  2. Kessler, Chiu, Demler, Merikanagas, Walters. (2005). Prevelance, severity, and comorbidity of 12-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62, 617-627.
  3. Cuijpers, De Graaf, & Van Dorsselaer. (2004). Minor depression: risk profiles, functional disability, health care use and risk of developing major depression. Journal of Affective Disorders, 79, 71–79.
  4. Lewinsohn, Shankman, Gau, & Klein. (2004). The prevalence and comorbidity of subthreshold psychiatric conditions. Psychological Medicine, 34, 613–622.
  5. Gotlib, Lewinsohn, & Seeley. (1995). Symptoms versus a diagnosis of depression: Differences in psychosocial functioning. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 63, 90-100.
  6. Fergusson, Horwood, Ridder, & Beautrais. (2005). Subthreshold depression in adolescence and mental health outcomes in adulthood. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62, 66-72.
  7. Keenan, Hipwell, Feng, et al. (2008). Subthreshold symptoms of depression in preadolescent girls are stable and predictive of depressive disorders. Journal of the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry, 47, 1433-1442.
  8. Greenberg, Kessler, Birnbaum, et al. (2003) The economic burden of depression in the United States: How did it change between 1990 and 2000? Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 64, 1465–1475.
  9. Kessler, Akiskal, Ames, et al. (2006) Prevalence and effects of mood disorders on work performance in a nationally representative sample of U.S. workers. American Journal of Psychiatry, 163, 1561–1568.
  10. Wang, Simon, Avorn, et al. (2007) Telephone screening, outreach, and care management for depressed workers and impact on clinical and work productivity outcomes. A randomized controlled trial. JAMA, 298, 1401-1411.
  11. Lewinsohn, Antonuccio, Steinmetz, & Teri. (1984) The Coping with Depression Course: A Psychoeducational Intervention for Unipolar Depression. Eugene, OR: Castalia.
  12. Lopez & Snyder (Editors). (2009) The Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology (2nd ed.) New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.



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