The new Egg BLT McMuffin nearly ruined my life. I have data, I can prove it. Don’t get me wrong, it tastes good. But if you’re trying to get some morning mojo by picking up something in the drive-thru, do not buy this sandwich.
The bacon is an inconsistent shape and flatness, and the lettuce has a springiness that makes things unstable. After three bites, my McMuffin started to fall apart, and the mayo ended up on my shirt and pants. My first experiment with this horrible sandwich was on the day I met my new top client for the very first time. When the moment came, I started talking before she had finished her sentence. Twice. My first impression with a very powerful person happened the day that McDonald’s chose to ruin my career. I hereby call for a boycott of the Egg BLT McMuffin.
Your morning mood, prior to arriving at work, has a measurable impact on your workplace effectiveness.
Nancy Rothbard from University of Pennsylvania wrote an meaningful article in July 2016 in Harvard Business Review. Rothbard was summarizing a paper she co-authored, “Waking Up on the Right or Wrong Side of the Bed: Start-of-Workday Mood, Work Events, Employee Affect, And Performance,” by Nancy Rothbard and Steffanie Wilk. Academy of Management Journal, 2011, Vol. 54, No. 5, 959-980.
The study looks at customer service representatives in an insurance company — which had good performance metrics to begin with — to which they added surveys about employees’ moods. They found that people who started their day happy “…stayed that way throughout the day, and interacting with customers tended to further enhance their mood.” Those with a good start “…provided higher-quality service: they were more articulate on the phone with fewer “ums” and verbal tics, and used more proper grammar.” And I bet they don’t cut people off, either.
By contrast, those who started their day in a bad mood “…didn’t really climb out of it, and felt even worse by the end of the day…” The negative moods caused people to take more breaks, and the breaks were significant, “…leading to a greater than 10% loss of productivity.” In my case, I struggled in the bathroom trying to get the oil out of my shirt with paper towel and hand-soap. I am paid to do metrics, not laundry.
What can managers do to help? Rothbard suggests that not sending evening emails will improve the employees’ recovery time, improving the likelihood of a good mood the next day. And managers “…can allow employees a little space first thing in the morning, for example to chat with colleagues before an early meeting.” Beyond Rothbard’s comments I think there is much more that can be done.
Managers are first and foremost the leaders of the mood of their team. They need to share inspiration and positivity, since their mood has a contagion-effect on those who look up to them. The manager needs to decide to be in a good mood, organize their life accordingly, and use their emotional contagion for the better. If you are a leader, you might not be free to control the home life of your staff. But you can finesse your own morning routine, and boost your team indirectly with a contagion-effect.
In a helpful article in Inc.com, Allison Davis suggests that in order to have an effective morning, we need to take care of morning tasks the night before. Your gym bag, your lunch, and your wardrobe must be in place before you wake up. You need to plan your week or month prior to arriving at work, so that you arrive with a clear game plan. You need to think through your “worry” items ahead of time, then write them down, forget about them, and arrive at work with a clear mind.
For this reason I ensure my shirts are cleaned and pressed on the weekend. All I need is for McDonald’s to put a McMuffin into my hands, and I’m ready to get to the office a few minutes early and rock my day. Just another perfect morning, with a spotless shirt and an Egg McMuffin in my hand.
I once took a great course on emotional intelligence through Coursera, taught by Richard Boyatsis from Case Western Reserve University. The course is called Inspiring Leadership Through Emotional Intelligence, and you can find it here. Emotional intelligence is a complex field because it’s not just about being positive. There’s significant brain science involved, and your understanding how the brain works in a clinical sense has a big impact on understanding and managing your gut response.
My favorite take-away was the distinction between two modes of thought. The sympathetic nervous system is the mode where you are under some stress. This mode is good for rules compliance, cranking-out large volumes of identical outputs, and – in my experience – a certain kind of perseverance. By contrast, the parasympathetic nervous system is a relaxed state where you are open to new ideas; grateful and hopeful; and superior at creative thinking, strategy, and looking at the future.
In terms of how to get into this positive state, you should know that you typically wake up that way. As frustrations and annoyances pile up through your morning, your blood thickens with stress and your mind narrows. You’re usually done by noon, ready for an afternoon producing large volumes of rules-compliant outputs. You can minimize these frustrations if you can plan a good morning routine.
Managers under significant stress are routinely pulled into the sympathetic nervous system. They become uncivil. They display a lack of emotional intelligence as they rise through the ranks. Their reduced ability to understand those unlike themselves has an adverse effect on inclusion.
To be a good leader you need to control your stress, not just on-the-fly, but also in terms of how your life is organized. Your get-out-the-door errands are typically thoughtless and mundane. Therefore, it is best to take care of them when your sympathetic nervous system is active anyway, such as on evenings and Fridays.
Early in your day and early in your week is the natural time for creating great new ideas. By contrast, bad decisions are typically made on a Friday afternoon. How many really bad ideas can you think of that happened on a Friday afternoon?
I can think of one. The sandwich-that-shall-not-be-named. The Egg BLT McMuffin from McDonald’s. I’ll bet five bucks it was invented on a Friday afternoon. Because that’s the worst idea that has ever existed.