Comparing Emotional Labor Strategies

Topic(s): job performance, personality, training
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (2011)
Article: Want a Tip? Service Performance as a Function of Emotion Regulation and Extraversion
Authors: N. Chi, A.A. Grandey, J.A. Diamond, K.R. Krimmel
Reviewed by: Ben Sher

Your restaurant server is quite the professional! He manages a warm, genuine smile despite his impending apartment eviction, recurring car-transmission problems, and the fact that his favorite football team just lost in the playoffs. But to pull that off, your server had to perform something called emotional labor, a crucial topic of interest to I-O Psychologists. New research by Chi, Grandey, Diamond, and Krimmel (2011) has found that certain emotional labor strategies are more useful than others, and that sometimes it depends on the type of person using these strategies.


The authors discuss two major strategies for performing emotional labor. The first is called surface acting. This is when employees fake the desired emotions even when those emotions don’t accurately reflect how they feel inside. The other strategy is called deep acting. This is when employees actually change their inner feelings to the desired state by focusing on past experiences. For example, an employee who is in a bad mood might try thinking hard about a time when he was in a happy mood, causing him to project a display of authentic happiness to his customers.

But the two strategies do not always lead to similar results. The researchers found that deep acting by restaurant servers will lead to them receiving more tips and exceeding customer expectations. In a separate study involving simulated call-center employees, the researchers found that deep acting leads to an overall better emotional performance, meaning it is more convincing to the customers. They also discovered that deep acting also leads employees to perform extra-role behaviors, meaning tasks that are not strictly part of someone’s job description but are nevertheless important. The authors explain that deep acting puts employees in a good mood, which makes them more likely to do extra work.

But what about surface acting? The researchers found that surface acting leads to receiving more tips, but only when used by extraverted, outgoing employees. When introverted employees tried surface acting, their overall emotional performance became worse, and was not as convincing to the customers. Specifically, this was true when the introverted employees performed extra-role behaviors. The authors explain that “faking it” strategies like surface acting are particularly exhaustive to introverts, and while introverts may be able to “fake it” while performing their typical duties, their emotional resources may become depleted when asked to perform extra-role behaviors.


The implications of these findings are important for training in any industry that requires contact with customers. Clearly, deep acting is a useful approach to dealing with the demands of emotional labor, and should be the preferred method endorsed during employee training. Surface acting may be an alternative method that works when deep acting is not possible or inconvenient, but only for naturally extraverted employees.


Chi, N., Grandey, A.A., Diamond, J.A., & Krimmel K.R. (2011). Want a Tip? Service Performance as a Function of Emotion Regulation and Extraversion. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96(6), 1237-1346.

Image credit: istockphoto/Carlos Pintau