MICHIGAN STATE (US) — Faking a smile to keep customers—and the boss—happy can lower productivity and put employees in a bad mood—particularly women.
“Employers may think that simply getting their employees to smile is good for the organization, but that’s not necessarily the case,” says Brent Scott, assistant professor of management at Michigan State University. “Smiling for the sake of smiling can lead to emotional exhaustion and withdrawal, and that’s bad for the organization.”
Scott and colleagues found that while fake smiling can cause some employees to withdraw, workers who smile as a result of cultivating positive thoughts—such as a tropical vacation or a child’s recital—have better moods and are more engaged in their work.
For the study, which appears in the February issue of the Academy of Management Journal, researchers studied a group of city bus drivers during a two-week period.
They examined the effects of surface acting, or fake smiling, and deep acting, or cultivating positive emotions by recalling pleasant memories or thinking about the current situation in a more favorable way.
The study is one of the first of its kind to examine emotional displays over a period of time while also delving into gender differences, Scott notes.
The results were stronger for the women bus drivers, he adds.
“Women were harmed more by surface acting, meaning their mood worsened even more than the men and they withdrew more from work,” Scott says. “But they were helped more by deep acting, meaning their mood improved more and they withdrew less.”
While the study didn’t explore the reasons behind these differences, Scott says previous research suggests women are both expected to and do show greater emotional intensity and positive emotional expressiveness than men.
Thus, faking a smile while still feeling negative emotion conflicts with this cultural norm and may cause even more harmful feelings in women, he adds, while changing internal feelings by deep acting would gel with the norm and may improve mood even more.
But while deep acting seemed to improve mood in the short-term, Scott says that finding comes with a caveat.
“There have been some suggestions that if you do this over a long period that you start to feel inauthentic,” he says. “Yes, you’re trying to cultivate positive emotions, but at the end of the day you may not feel like yourself anymore.”
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