HR Strange But True

Are Your Workers Smiling? That Might Be Bad!

Don’t we all want a workplace where the workers are smiling? Yes, but not if we are requiring them to smile.

Employees, especially in some jobs working with the public such as hospitality or customer service, are expected to appear to always be in a good mood. Now a new study found that when employees must fake a smile at work when they don’t feel at all like smiling, it can create a number of stressors that can affect employees’ emotional well-being!

Employers may want workers to give “service with a smile,” which has been proven to improve business. However, enforcing the so-called “emotional display” rule should be banned, according to the recent research, because it negatively affects employees’ performance.

In an abstract in Journal of Organizational Behavior (May 2015), study researchers at Purdue University and Pennsylvania State University report that when employees confront a difficult customer, they become emotional. If they are required by management to “act” friendly and mask their true negative emotions, this becomes “emotional labor,” causing the employee to feel anger, stress, and fatigue.

The situation can also cause “primitive emotional contagion” in the workplace, where workers subconsciously absorb the moods of those near them, says Alicia Grandey, PhD, an author of the study and an organizational psychologist at Penn State, as quoted on

These symptoms increase in jobs such as customer service, where angry customers take out their frustrations on employees.

The researchers suggest that employees who must appear friendly and happy at all times be given breaks where they have sufficient time to get out of their faux good mood and vent their built-up emotions. Letting employees talk it out with similarly frustrated coworkers is also helpful, according to the study.

Also, it is probably not a good idea for employers to post signs with smiley faces or constantly ask employees to “smile” or to “put on a happy face.”