HR Strange But True!
March 03, 2011

A new study finds that workers who fake being happy throughout the day actually worsen their mood, resulting in lower productivity, while workers who smile as a result of cultivating positive thoughts improve their mood.

The study, “A Multilevel Field Investigation of Emotional Labor, Affect, Work Withdrawal, and Gender” by Michigan State University business scholars Brent Scott and Christopher Barnes, shows that employees’ smiles are only good for an organization if the employees are truly happy, not just pretending to be.

“Employers may think that simply getting their employees to smile is good for the organization, but that’s not necessarily the case,” said Scott, an MSU assistant professor of Management, in a news release. “Smiling for the sake of smiling can lead to emotional exhaustion and withdrawal, and that’s bad for the organization.”

The pair studied the emotional displays of male and female bus drivers for a period of 2 weeks. They examined the effects of “surface acting,” such as working wearing a fake smile, and “deep acting,” the cultivation of positive emotions by recalling pleasant memories or thinking about the current situation in a more favorable way, according to the news release.

The study found that the deep acting, such as thinking about a tropical vacation or child’s recital, did seem to improve workers’ mood in the short-term, Scott said. However he cautions that results of the study also suggest that if workers smile just to keep their bosses happy and do this over a long period, they start to feel inauthentic,” Scott said.

“Yes, they’re trying to cultivate positive emotions, but at the end of the day they may not feel like themselves anymore.” Scott concludes. “Yes, you’re trying to cultivate positive emotions, but at the end of the day you may not feel like yourself anymore.”


Michigan State University

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