Smiling at Work Can Make Employees Happy

If your job requires you to interact with customers, it is probably a good idea to smile. Nobody wants to do business with someone who looks annoyed, irritated, sad, or like they just found out that their hard drive crashed. But did you know that smiling at customers can actually make you happier?


New research (Kim & Yoon, 2012) focused on retail employees, their customers, and the interactions shared between them. The researchers found that when employees smile at customers in order to appear friendly, the employees really do end up in a good mood. Why? The researchers say this is based on the social interaction model, which explains that emotions expressed by employees can affect the emotional response of their customers. The emotional response of the customers in-turn affects the mood of the employees.

In this situation, smiling employees cause their customers to smile in return. This could be due to the natural urge to mimic emotional displays of people we are interacting with, or a more intentional effort to respond in a friendly and polite manner. When customers smile, it is as if they are saying “I like how you are doing your job.” To the employee, this feels like a positive performance review. Wouldn’t that make you happy?


Another interesting point is that the strength of this finding varies depending on the personality of the customers. Customers who had a high degree of agreeableness (which is someone who is interested in harmony and courteousness) were not as likely to smile in response to smiling employees. This may seem counterintuitive, but it is because agreeable people are not as sensitive to environmental cues when deciding how to respond. Customers with a low degree of agreeableness are more sensitive to emotional cues, and so they are more likely to smile in response to smiling employees. Similarly, customers with a low degree of emotional stability were more likely to respond with smiling when confronted with smiling employees.


Why is this study important?  In general, it highlights the role that customers play in employee satisfaction. Managers should not underestimate the importance of this dynamic relationship when trying to improve employee mood and morale. More specifically, this study shows the importance of positive emotional displays. Smiling at customers is not just for show, it’s for your own good too.


Kim, E. & Yoon, D.J. (2012). Why does service with a smile make employees happy? A social interaction model. Journal of Applied Psychology97(5), 758-775.