Everyone has bad days. It’s a fact of life. There will be days when you’re under the weather, exhausted from a late night, or feeling unmotivated. Though most of us simply try and power through, a lack of mental energy decreases our ability to self-regulate our emotions, increasing the likelihood of breaking rules, taking shortcuts, and acting unethically.

Why Self-Regulation is Essential at Work

Self-regulation (our conscience) is what keeps us honest. It’s what enables us to take the high road and avoid taking the easy way out. Those who struggle to self-regulate (in other words, those with poor self-control) often give into temptations and forsake their long-term goals for immediate satisfaction. Our ability to self-regulate comes from both internal and external factors. Internal factors, like lack of sleep or chronic pain (like arthritis), can chip away at our ability to self-regulate at work and elsewhere. External factors, like perceived unfairness or injustice in the office, are also important in self-regulation.

Reactions to Unfairness and Injustice

When an employee perceives an injustice in the workplace—a junior employee receiving a promotion ahead of them, for example—they have a hot reaction and a cold reaction. The hot reaction is an immediate emotional response. Anger, for example. The cold reaction is what happens afterward, and it often proves far more destructive than the hot reaction. A cold response takes place over a long period as they replay the injustice in their heads again and again. Those with poor self-regulation / mindfulness are more likely to retaliate against their bosses, which could end up putting their jobs at risk.

Self-Regulation with Chronic Pain

Internal factors like chronic pain or illness also affect performance. Company leaders must be cognizant of the fact that certain medical situations call for employees to miss work, but recent studies have suggested that in some cases “working sick” can actually reduce the employee’s level of pain. The body eventually becomes accustomed the demands of working while in pain, and the frequency and intensity of pain often decreases.

Sleep, Coffee, and Mindfulness

As we said, bad days are unavoidable. All we can do is put ourselves in a position to overcome these bad days by improving our ability to self-regulate. Mike Christian, a professor of organizational behavior at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School has written extensively on the subject of self-regulation and mindfulness. In controlled studies, he found that coffee actually does improve employees’ ability to self-regulate—even when they’re overworked and under-rested. Naturally, coffee is no substitute for sleep, but it does provide a quick fix.

A more aggressive and forward-thinking strategy is to incorporate mindfulness exercises into your daily workflow. It may sound silly to have meditation in the workplace, but countless studies have proven the effectiveness of meditation on mood, self-control, and mindfulness. Best of all, it’s free.

Change Management with The Change Leader

The Change Leader works with large corporations, midsize companies, and startups to build high-performance working cultures, improve leadership, and boost productivity and morale. For more information on our hands-on approach to organizational change, please visit our homepage.