Employee Differences in Faking Positive Emotions

When employees have to fake a persona that is in direct conflict with their real emotions, they are experiencing what is called emotional dissonance. Research shows that emotional dissonance is a stressor to employees; negatively affecting both employee performance and well-being. On the other hand, sometimes the ability to fake positive emotions (surface acting) leads to feelings of personal accomplishment and job satisfaction. So which is it?  A recent study (Pugh et al., 2011) suggests that it largely depends on the person.


The study suggests that while some employees don’t mind faking their emotions, others find it necessary to display their true emotions. Furthermore, some employees are confident in their surface acting abilities, while others are very unsure. 

In positions that require high levels of surface acting, employees who are more strongly opposed to surface acting and who are not confident in their abilities to fake positive emotions are much more apt to experience negative consequences such as emotional exhaustion or job dissatisfaction.


Organizations are urged to investigate employee perceptions of surface acting and match employees to positions based on the amount of surface acting that is involved. A match is sure to pay off in the form of higher job satisfaction, lower emotional exhaustion, and lower turnover intentions.


Pugh, S.D., Groth, M. & Hennig-Thurau, T. (2011). Willing and able to fake emotions: A closer examination of the link between emotional dissonance and employee well-being. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96(2), 377-390.