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Smiling at Work is not Always a Good Thing!

Datum:24 juni 2019
Auteur:Burcu Subasi
Smiling at Work is not Always a Good Thing!
Smiling at Work is not Always a Good Thing!

Imagine that you are a flight attendant. The plane has a long delay. You are making explanations with a smile on your face for the cause of the delay to angry passengers. They want to learn more, they criticize the company you work for, they keep complaining. You keep smiling and making explanations. When the plane finally comes and takes off, strong turbulence occurs because of bad weather conditions. The child of one of the passengers spilled juice on herself; the mother gets even more agitated, and raises her voice towards you with an angry tone when you are trying to help the child. You keep smiling because that is what you are trained for. This smile, the smile you have to give to customers when you absolutely do not want to, comes with a big price: Your mental health, physical health and even family life!

Many companies at the hospitality industry train their workers for smiling at their customers. In many airlines, flight attendants make smiling practices with chop sticks in their mouths for long hours as part of their trainings. There is nothing wrong with smiling at customers and being positive. What is wrong, however, is the fact that you have to smile even when you do not feel like doing it. Researchers conducted a study among bus drivers in the United States (Wagner, Barnes, & Scott, 2014).  These bus drivers answered questions before and after work, and before they go to bed every night. The questions were about their moods before and after work, the amount of sleep they had, whether they masked their emotions or mood during work etc… The bus drivers who fake-smiled were more likely to suffer from insomnia, and to have family conflict compared to ones who did not fake-smile. Another research has been carried out with the workers who are in the public-facing roles in the United States such as waitresses, nurses, teachers etc… (Grandey, Frone, Melloy, & Sayre, 2019). Participants answered questions about how often they faked or suppressed their emotions while working, how impulsive they were, how much autonomy they had at the work-place. Researchers found that faking positive emotions such as smiling while not feeling like smiling or suppressing negative emotions such as not rolling eyes while feel like doing, it was related to heavy drinking after work. The more the participants controlled their emotions at work, the less they were able to control their drinking habits after work.

Consequently, if you are a manager at the hospitality industry, you should be aware of the fact that requiring your employees to fake or suppress their emotions will lead them to suffer from mental and physical problems. Problems with employees will present themselves as problems at business eventually.

How can you help your employees?

  • You need to train your employees for empathizing with customers instead of faking their emotions. Going back my previous example with the flight attendant, she can get a training to understand that the mother was stressed having a delayed and long flight with a young child alone while they were experiencing strong turbulence, and that maybe she got mentally drained with the spill of juice, and raised her voice without noticing. This is an example of deep acting which means replacing negative emotions with positive ones, and it does not lead to harmful results as faking emotions does (Hülsheger & Schewe, 2011).
  • You need to train your employees for being themselves when they are with each other. They should be able to express themselves to each other freely. They should have a work climate which they can feel authentic and genuine when they are around each other. This protects their mental health by leading them to support each other when they need a break (Grandey, Foo, Groth, & Goodwin, 2012).

Dr. Burcu Subasi (b.subasi is a psychologist and a post-doctoral researcher working at the Faculty of Economics and Business on a project about how to increase decision making performance of individuals in order to enhance resilience against disruptions.



  • Wagner D. T., Barnes C. M., & Scott B. A. (2014). Driving it home: How workplace emotional labor harms employee home life. Personnel Psychology, 67, 487–516.
  • Grandey, A. A., Frone, M. R., Melloy, R. C., & Sayre, G. M. (2019). When are fakers also drinkers? A self-control view of emotional labor and alcohol consumption among U.S. service workers.. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, Advance Online Publication. DOI: 1037/ocp0000147
  • Hülsheger, U. R. & Schewe, A. F. (2011). On the costs and benefits of emotional labor: A meta-analysis of three decades of research. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 16, 361-389.
  • Grandey, A. A., Foo, S. C., Groth, M., & Goodwin, R. E. (2012). Free to be you and me: A climate of authenticity alleviates burnout from emotional labor. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 17, 1–14.