To Fake or Not to Fake: Employee Differences in Displaying Emotions

Topic: Faking, Work Environment
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Willing and able to fake emotions: A closer examination of the link between emotional dissonance and employee well-being
Authors: S.D. Pugh, M. Groth & T. Hennig-Thurau
Reviewed By: Benjamin Lee Overstreet

Think about it: If you’re having a bad day, the last thing you want to do at work is put on a smile and say “How can I help you today?” When you have to fake a persona that is in direct conflict with your real emotions, you 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 study by Pugh et al. suggests that it largely depends on the person.

Pugh et al.’s recent study suggests that while some employees don’t mind faking their emotions, others find it necessary to display their true emotions. In other words, employees differ in their self-concepts for surface acting. Furthermore, their study suggests that some employees are confident in their surface acting abilities, while others are very unsure. Thus, employees also differ in their surface acting self-efficacy.

Results indicate that surface acting self-concept and self-efficacy strongly affect the relationship between surface acting and the outcomes such as job satisfaction and emotional exhaustion.

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 payoff in the form of higher job satisfaction, lower emotional exhaustion and lower turnover intentions.

Pugh, S.D., Groth, M. & Hennig-Thurau, T. (2010). Willing and able to fake emotions: A closer examination of the link between emotional dissonance and employee well-being. Journal of Applied Psychology, Advance online publication, 1-14.