According to researchers at Penn State and the University at Buffalo, employees who force themselves to smile and or who try to appear happy before customers despite being annoyed—may be at risk for heavier drinking post work.

The research team studied the drinking habits of people, who are in public dealing jobs such as nurses or teachers who work with patients or students respectively, or those in food service working with customers. They found that regularly faking or amplifying positive emotions, like smiling, or suppressing negative emotions while resisting the urge to, for instance, roll one’s eyes, was linked with heavier drinking after work.

Alicia Grandey, professor of psychology at Penn State, asserted that the findings indicate that employers may want to reconsider “service with a smile” policies.

According to Grandey, faking and suppressing emotions in front of customers make employees reach for a drink and it is something beyond the stress of the job or feeling negative. “The more they have to control negative emotions at work, the less they are able to control their alcohol intake after work,” she said.

While earlier research has shown a link between service workers and problems with drinking, why this actually happens could not be known. Grandey hypothesized that employees may be using a lot of self-control to fake or suppress emotions in front of customers and therefore, later, those employees may not have too much self-control left to regulate how much alcohol they drink.

“Although smiling as part of one’s job sounds like a positive thing, doing it all day can be exhausting. As usually money is tied to showing positive emotions and curbing negative ones in these jobs, money motivates the individuals to disregard their natural tendencies, but doing it all day can be draining.”

The study published in Journal of Occupational Health Psychology included data from phone interviews with 1,592 U.S. workers. The data was, in turn, part of a larger survey funded by the National Survey of Work Stress and Health, which included almost 3,000 participants representing U.S. working population.

The information included in the data was about how often the participants faked or suppressed emotions, also called “surface acting,” as well as how often and how much the participants drank after work. The researchers also measured how impulsive the participants are and how much freedom they feel they have at work.

The researchers found that overall, employees who interacted with the public drank more after work as compared to those who did not. Besides, surface acting was also related to drinking after work, and that connection was stronger or weaker depending on the person’s trait-like self-control and the job’s extent of self-control.

“The link between surface acting and drinking after work was clearer for participants who were impulsive or who lacked self-control over behavior at work,” Grandey said. “If an individual is impulsive or constantly told how to do his or her job, it may be harder for him or her to control emotions all day, and when that individual reaches home, he or she doesn’t have that self-control to stop after one drink.”

Specifically, the findings demonstrated a stronger relation between surface acting and drinking when employees who were highly impulsive also worked in jobs where employees have one-time service encounters with customers, like a call center or coffee shop, rather than relationships, like health care or education. “People in these jobs tend to be younger and in entry-level positions, and may lack the self-control tendencies and the monetary and social rewards that can buffer the costs of surface acting,” Grandney pointed out. Further, the results suggest that surface acting is less likely to create trouble when the work is personally rewarding to the employee.

“Nurses, for instance, may intensify or fake their emotions for clear reasons,” Grandey said. “They’re trying to comfort a patient or build a strong relationship. But someone who is faking emotions for a customer they may never see again, that may not be as rewarding, and may eventually be more exhausting or taxing.”

Grandey said that these insights may be useful for employers to create healthier workplace environments. “Employers may want to consider allowing employees to have a little more autonomy or independence at work. And when the emotional effort is clearly connected with financial or relational rewards, the effects aren’t so bad.”



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