Emotional Labor & Turnover…Fake It ‘Til You Make It?

Topic: Turnover
Publication: Journal of Organizational Behavior (NOV 2009)
Article: A predictive study of emotional labor and turnover
Authors: S.L. Chau, J.J. Dahling, P.E. Levy, J.M. Diefendorff
Reviewed By: Katie Bachman

Good customer service may be causing workers to consider leaving their organization. Putting on a smile through a difficult interaction can deplete emotional resources—referred to as emotional labor —particularly when the employee does not fully subscribe to making the interaction positive.

There are two types of acting that employees engage in during these interactions: deep acting and surface acting. Deep acting occurs when employees attempt to change their feelings toward a situation so that their emotions match their behavior. Surface acting, on the other hand, occurs when employees merely mask their feelings and present an outward appearance that does not match their feelings. It is this second form of acting, surface acting, which causes emotional depletion.

In this study, emotional depletion was positively related to turnover intentions (i.e. people who are “burnt out” think about leaving). Turnover intentions were then linked to actual turnover rates 6 months later. Deep acting had the opposite effect. Employees who engaged in deep acting actually had lower levels of turnover intentions. Employees who fully take on their roles when interacting with others expend fewer emotional resources.

For business scenarios, this has some pretty obvious implications. Managers can go beyond encouraging employees to maintain that sunny disposition, and instead promote deep acting over surface acting. By doing so, they may keep those employees happier and with the organization longer – and that’s something to truly be happy about (I mean it!).

Chau, S. L., Dahling, J. J., Levy, P. E., & Diefendorff, J. M. (2009). A predictive  study of emotional labor and turnover. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 30, 1151-1163.