- Researchers at Penn State and the University at Buffalo said last week they've found a link between jobs that require workers to smile at customers and suppress negative feelings and excessive drinking during non-work hours. The study, published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, used data from a larger survey of 1,592 U.S. workers funded by the National Institutes of Health.
- The researchers collected data on how often respondents suppressed or faked emotions, called "surface acting," and how much and how often they drank when off duty. According to the results, employees who interacted with the public drank more after work. The relationship is more pronounced for workers with impulsive personalities who have one-time customer interactions — and for employees who don't have autonomy at work — Alicia Grandey, professor of psychology at Penn State, said in a statement.
- But the results also suggest surface acting is less likely to be problematic when work is personally rewarding to an employee, researchers said. "Smiling as part of your job sounds like a really positive thing, but doing it all day can be draining," Grandey said. "In these jobs, there's also often money tied to showing positive emotions and holding back negative feelings. Money gives you a motivation to override your natural tendencies, but doing it all day can be wearing."
Delivering exceptional customer service is especially central to public-facing industries like hospitality, a space in which employers invest heavily in customer-service training. But HR professionals should be attuned to how the pressure to perform impacts workers who do this sort of labor. Managers specifically might need to pay closer attention to such workers and watch out for signs of stress or anxiety.
Grandey said employers may want to consider "service with a smile" policies while giving workers more autonomy over their work, and added this might allow employees some control over their emotions when dealing with customers. She noted the compulsion to drink might not be so great when financial or relational rewards are tied to employees' emotional efforts.
Hourly workers who put in face time with customers in the retail or food service industries might be able to reclaim some of their autonomy if employers commit to predictive scheduling and invest in technology that allows workers to easily maintain their schedules. Adopting flexible work policies and paid parental leave when possible can also encourage better self care for public-facing workers, which could prevent burnout and turnover. And while difficult customer interactions may occur occasionally regardless of industry, managers must also ensure employees aren't facing outright harassment from customers — a problem that has proved pervasive in some service occupations.