Psychological Science at Work


The indispensable research blog on the science of the modern workplace, covering everything from leadership and management to the behavioral, social, and cognitive dynamics behind performance and achievement.


Emotional Labor Costs

83114223Anybody who has worked in a customer-service position knows how difficult it can be to maintain a smile and good humor in the face of an angry client or customer. In fact, the effort may be more costly than we realize.

Alicia A. Grandey, an industrial-organizational psychologist at Pennsylvania State University, has spent a good part of her career studying “emotional labor”—the process of altering one’s behavior or disposition to meet an employer’s expectations. For workers in jobs that require stressful interactions with superiors, co-workers, or customers, the effects of emotional labor can create considerable internal turmoil.

In one study, Grandey and collaborators simulated a call center in which confederates on the other end of the line were either rude or polite. When test participants were told to be friendly they did regulate their emotions, but they also made more performance errors related to a math task — and those “employees” who handled particularly abusive callers made the most mistakes.

“It takes attentional focus to regulate your emotions,” Grandey said during a recent presentation in Washington, D.C. “There’s some amount of resources not available for other tasks if you’re having to regulate your emotions.”

The good news, according to Grandey’s work, is that some of the ill-effects of smiling on the job can be mitigated simply by offering employees a bonus to put on the happy face.

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