Emotional Labor: How Faking a Smile at Work Affects Job Satisfaction

Topic(s): job performance, job satisfaction
Publication: Personnel Psychology (2013)
Article: A meta-analytic structural model of dispositional affectivity and emotional labor
Authors: John D. Kammeyer-Mueller, Alex L. Rubenstein, David M. Long, Michael A. Odio, Brooke R. Buckman, Yiwen Zhang, & Marie D. K. Halvorsen-Ganepola
Reviewed by: Scott Charles Sitrin

Have you ever given a fake smile to someone at work even though you weren’t feeling happy or very excited to see him? If so, you’ve engaged in a process known as emotional labor in which you manage your emotions in order to act in an appropriate way in a work setting. Maybe you wouldn’t go to such efforts when around friends and family, instead feeling free to express the emotions you actually feel. In a work setting though, it may not be best to show your irritation about missing lunch to your brand new client.

Emotional Labor: Surface Acting and Deep Acting

Previous research has divided emotional labor into two categories: surface acting and deep acting. Surface acting refers to expressing the emotion that the situation requires even though it may not be the emotion that you are feeling. For example, you may need to smile and be cheerful when greeting a client even though you feel neither happy nor cheerful. Deep acting also refers to expressing the emotion that the situation requires, but instead of merely faking it, you try to generate the required emotions by thinking of historical events or associations. For example, you may need to smile and be cheerful when greeting a client, and even though you’re feeling tired and grumpy, you generate happiness and cheer by thinking of positive associations or of things that make you happy.

How Emotional Labor Affects Job Performance and Satisfaction

Through a literature review of over 116 samples, the results of this investigation indicate that the type of emotional strategy utilized – surface or deep – affects job performance. Specifically, those who use a surface-emotional-labor strategy are less satisfied with their job and more stressed and exhausted, while those who use a deep-emotional-labor strategy are more satisfied, less stressed, and perform their job better. In explaining this finding, the authors believe that surface emotional strategies have worse affects on job performance because they require more effort in order to overcome the cognitive dissonance between an emotion felt and an emotion expressed. Though this result is important for the job performance of anyone with a client-facing role, it is particularly important for those in the service industry in which customer satisfaction is key.