Software engineers are only human (at least for now), so it should be little wonder that they mess up from time to time. New research from Binghamton University found that whether or not programmers report their mistakes depends largely on their mood: Those feeling positive were less likely to fess up than those who felt down.

Spotting errors early is in your best interest. “A minor glitch in design or programming can have devastating consequences,” notes Binghamton professor Sumantra Sarkar. “For example, even a small error in software design could result in a NASA capsule disaster in outer space.” Even if the code your programmers are writing won’t be leaving the planet, mistakes can cause expensive delays or damage to yours or your clients’ systems.

Managers can help lessen the likelihood of a major mishap by understanding that IT is a human as well as a technical business function. “Establish a good rapport with team members to foster an environment that will allow employees to speak up when they feel their mood could affect their reporting decisions,” Sarkar advises.

Don’t take these findings as permission to make your IT team unhappy with onerous workloads or an abrasive management style—there’s plenty of research to suggest disgruntled workers are less productive and more error-prone. Instead, make them aware of the effects their positivity might be having on the quality of their work, and keep an eye out for any particularly chipper programmers who insist their code is glitch-free.


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