Poker Face in Workplace: The Good, The Bad, and The…

Topic: Job Performance, Training
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (MAR 2011)
Article: Service Without a Smile: Comparing the Consequences of Neutral and Positive Display Rules
Authors: J.P. Trougakos, C.L. Jackson, D.J. Beal
Reviewed By: Ben Sher

Sometimes jobs require employees to convey specific emotions.  For example, a funeral director needs to appear somber, a police officer must appear neutral, and a restaurant server needs to look cheerful.  The guidelines that determine which facial expressions an employee needs to maintain are called display rules. In order to maintain a specific demeanor on a continual basis, employees must engage in emotional labor, unless you are a clown and you have a smile painted on your face.

Trougakos, Jackson, and Beal (2011) performed an experiment that trained poll workers to conduct surveys displaying either happy or neutral emotions, and they found that neutral display rules cause employees to suppress more emotions (both positive and negative) which requires more emotional labor – which may lead to decreased job performance.  Specifically, the researchers found that poll workers instructed to remain neutral were less persistent in their recruitment of survey-takers and more likely to avoid potential survey-takers even as they passed right in front of them.

Poll workers trained to display positive emotions were successful in influencing the mood of the people taking the surveys.  These survey respondents were more likely to have favorable attitudes regarding the poll workers and the organizations represented by the poll workers.

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