Faking “service with a smile” could prove detrimental to the health of those who work with the public on a routine basis, prompting them to reach for a drink — or two — once they’re off the clock.
That’s the key finding of a study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology last week, in which researchers at Penn State and the University of Buffalo examined the drinking habits of people who deal with the public, such as nurses and food service workers.
What they found was that employees who forced themselves to smile and act happy for customers — especially when they didn’t want to — were at increased risk of heavier drinking after work.
“Faking and suppressing emotions with customers was related to drinking beyond the stress of the job or feeling negatively,” Alicia Grandey, a professor of psychology at Penn State, told the campus newspaper. “It wasn’t just feeling badly that makes them reach for a drink. Instead, the more they have to control negative emotions at work, the less they are able to control their alcohol intake after work.”
Grandey said the findings should prompt employers to rethink policies that force employees to crack a smile.
“Smiling as part of your job sounds like a really positive thing, but doing it all day can be draining,” she added.
For the study, Grandey and other researchers used data from a previous survey called the National Survey of Work Stress and Health, which comprised phone interviews with 1,592 workers across the U.S. These workers were asked how often they faked smiles, also called “surface acting,” how much they drank after work, how impulsive they are and how much control they feel they have at work.
“The relationship between surface acting and drinking after work was stronger for people who are impulsive or who lack personal control over behavior at work,” Grandey explained. “If you’re impulsive or constantly told how to do your job, it may be harder to rein in your emotions all day, and when you get home, you don’t have that self-control to stop after one drink.”
Researchers found that the link between forced smiles and drink was particularly strong in workers with jobs where they have one-time service encounters with customers, like a restaurant hostess, compared to, say, healthcare workers who form relationships with their patients.
Age may also play a factor. The study noted that people in these jobs tend to be younger, entry-level employees who don’t have the self control needed to fake it till they make it.
“Employers may want to consider allowing employees to have a little more autonomy at work, like they have some kind of choice on the job,” Grandey told Penn State News. “And when the emotional effort is clearly linked to financial or relational rewards, the effects aren’t so bad.”