Emotional Labor: How Faking a Smile at Work Affects Job Satisfaction

Topic(s): burnout, job performance, job satisfaction, stress
Publication: Personnel Psychology (2013)
Article: A meta-analytic structural model of dispositional affectivity and emotional labor
Authors: Y. Zhang, M.D.K. Halvorsen-Ganepola
Reviewed by: Scott Charles Sitrin

Employees who manage their emotions in order to act in the best interest of their jobs are performing something called emotional labor. People typically don’t need to do this when around friends and family. However, in a work setting, there are times when it makes sense to hide true emotions, and instead display the emotions that are expected.


Previous research has divided emotional labor into two categories: surface acting and deep acting. Surface acting refers to expressing the emotion that the situation requires, even though it may not be the emotion that is felt. For example, employees may need to smile and be cheerful when greeting clients even though the employees feel neither happy nor cheerful. 

Deep acting also refers to expressing the emotion that the situation requires, but instead of merely faking it, employees try to generate the required emotions by thinking of historical events or associations. For example, employees may need to smile and be cheerful when greeting clients, and even though the employees are feeling tired and grumpy, they generate happiness and cheer by thinking of positive associations or of things that make them happy.


Through a review of over 116 studies, the results of this investigation (Kammeyer-Mueller et al., 2013) indicate that the type of emotional strategy utilized – surface acting or deep acting – affects job performance. Specifically, those who use a surface acting strategy are less satisfied with their job and more stressed and exhausted, while those who use a deep acting strategy are more satisfied, less stressed, and perform their job better. 

In explaining their findings, the authors believe that surface acting strategies have greater downward impact on job performance because they require more effort in order to overcome the cognitive dissonance between an emotion felt and an emotion expressed. Though this result is important for the job performance of anyone with a client-facing role, it is particularly important for those in the service industry in which customer satisfaction is key.


Kammeyer-Mueller, J. D., Rubenstein, A. L., Long, D. M., Odio, M. A., Buckman, B. R., Zhang, Y., & Halvorsen-Ganepola, M. D. K. (2013). A Meta-Analytic Structural Model of Dispositonal Affectivity and Emotional Labor. Personnel Psychology, 66(1), 47-90.