Service with a Smile? But I’m Exhausted!

Topic: Work EnvironmentBurnout
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (March, 2010)
Article: Contextualizing emotional exhaustion and positive emotional display: The signaling effect of supervisors’ emotional exhaustion and service climate.
Authors: C.K. Lam, X. Huang, & O. Janssen
Reviewed By: Allison Gabriel

Employees are frequently encouraged to engage in pleasant behavior while suppressing negative emotions, despite how they actually feel. But, what happens when employees are too emotionally exhausted to go on?

Lam and colleagues looked at this question, exploring what kinds of contexts will help employees push through emotional exhaustion to continue being friendly, even when they feel drained. The researchers explored two potential factors: supervisor exhaustion and service climate.

First, they explored whether or not a supervisor’s level of exhaustion had an impact on the
emotional exhaustion of the subordinate. Secondly, the organization’s service climate was considered, which is the level of policies and procedures employees believe to be in place about being friendly (i.e., are you going to reward me for smiling to this customer or not?!) In a study of front-line sales employees in an Asian sample, the results are clear: service climate matters the most! Service climate directly impacted employees’ positive emotional displays.

Additionally, when service climate perceptions were low and supervisors’ emotional exhaustion was high, employees seemed to experience the lowest amount of positive emotional displays.


Organizations who want to save employees from emotional exhaustion (and, ultimately, job burnout) should help foster a service climate in their organizations. After all, service with a smile is part of a hard day’s work, and any factor that can assist employees would be greatly appreciated, maybe even with a smile!

Lam, C.K., Huang, X., & Janssen, O. (2010). Contextualizing emotional exhaustion
and positive emotional display: The signaling effects of supervisors’ emotional
exhaustion and service climate. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95, 368-376.