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Effect of Smiling and Positive Emotional Displays on Organizational Performance

Info: 2555 words (10 pages) Dissertation
Published: 10th Dec 2019

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Tagged: Psychology

 Organizations traditionally focused on rationality, and emotions were seen as negative and potentially disruptive. However, the late-twentieth-century is marked by the growth of a service economy where emotions became a market place commodity(Erickson and Ritter, 2001). As service jobs grows in numbers, work roles now include display rules monitored by the organizations in order to increase employee effectiveness (Morris and Feldman, 2017). In this essay, ‘smiling’ will be associated to positive display rules, particularly relevant to service organizations. While organizations and workers may derive some benefits in ‘smiling’ such as bringing competitive advantage as well as reinforcing the employee’s personal sense of accomplishment. This essay will argue that this instrumental approach to emotions triggers negative implications on the employee’s self and reinforces social issues.

Smiling may have a positive impact on organizational performance. This is particularly relevant in service-oriented businesses(Lee, An and Noh, 2015). Behind the demand to act, those non verbal signals are used to reach high level of service performance, and enhance employee’s customer orientation (Ibid.). Indeed, Rosci(1981) argues that extra profit is made by adding body language to professional abilities(Fu, 2013). Ashforth and Humphrey (1993) further discuss that service employees are “the interface between firms and customers” representing the overall professional image of the organization(Ibid.). Positive attitudes may not only improve customer’s satisfaction but also affects loyalty throughout ‘encore gains’(Rafaeli, Sutton and Llegible, 1987). This is shown throughout flight attendants’ strategic positive emotional expression to improve evaluations of in-flight service quality, customer satisfaction and loyalty(Lee, An and Noh, 2015).  In other words, the organizational expectation of ‘keeping it beautiful’ is tactically used to create the highest successful customer interaction thus, enabling to reach and retain customers (Ibid.). The demand to ‘smile’ at work can thus be seen as an internal marketing strategy to increase organizational performance.

Positive emotional display will increase the employee’s task effectiveness. The smiles of employees may generate a positive environment that could increase motivation, creativity and cooperation at work. According to Barsade and Gibson (1998), group emotion influence group performance which is defined as “affective sharing” (Kelly and Barsade, 2001). This process is spread from individuals to the broader group through emotional contagion and vicarious effect (Ibid.). Employees are more likely to engage in ‘prosocial behaviour’ which leads them to be more cooperative and less likely to engage in conflict when facing work obstacles (Kelly and Barsade, 2001). Positive environment may generate a supportive work climate in the eyes of employees, in turn affecting their effectiveness (Grandey, 2000). This shows that positive emotions can be closely linked to leadership. Affective leaders uses emotions such as optimism and enthusiasm to convey their message onto followers (Kelly and Barsade, 2001). Therefore, the requirement to maintain a common emotional style such as smiling may be beneficial to group dynamics and performance, facilitating interpersonal effectiveness.

Positive emotional work may increase the employee’s sense of accomplishment. Deep acting can generate emotional harmony enhancing the employee’s sense of control, autonomy and achievement at work. Indeed, Rafaeli (1989), Sutton (1991), Ashforth and Humphrey (1993) all argued that deep acting may result in emotional harmony which through self-efficiency and psychological stability increased the employee’s job satisfaction (Lee, An and Noh, 2015). This could be explained using Caplan’s (1983) ‘person-environment fit theory’, employees may not find emotional expression unpleasant due to a convergence between the behaviour expected by the organization and what the employee expects from himself (Rafaeli, Sutton and Llegible, 1987). Wharton (1993) through empirical tests also showed that emotional labour may be positively linked to job satisfaction (Morris and Feldman, 2017). This emotional work can generate into a sense of power and control through the ability to psychologically distance themselves from their work interactions, resulting into a heightened sense of autonomy and confidence at work (Ibid.). Indeed, being in emotional harmony through deep acting and performing genuine smiles could increase the workers sense of well being.

However, smiling will put employees through the experience of emotional dissonance resulting into psychological arousal. As Grandey (2000) argues, display rules are stressful due to the management of emotional states that is required (Brotheridge and Grandey, 2002). Hochschild (1983) believed that this prolonged inauthenticity often resulted to the detachment not only from their feelings but also from other’s people feeling, causing depersonalization(Brotheridge and Grandey, 2002). This constant control to supress their personal emotions, for some may be considered as ‘lying’ leading to role conflict which in the long term is increasingly difficult to control. This strain mirrors the discrepancy between how the employees would personally react to a situation and how they are required to react – by smiling. The internal tension and stress from expressing fake smiles can also negatively affect their sense of job autonomy(Grandey, 2000). In fact, Adelmann (1995) reported that employees who expressed genuine smiles experienced a higher job satisfaction than those faking their emotions (Ibid.). Therefore, as emotions should still be considered personal in that sense it should not be commercialized. The tension of the obligation to express and maintain a superficial emotion for organization goals often leads employees to lose emotional control and threatens their sense of self.

The obligation to show positive expressions often results to emotional exhaustion causing health and social problems. Indeed, Grandey (2000) argued that burnout was an outcome of surface acting and emotional exhaustion was a key component when one’s emotional resources was exhausted(Wagner, Barnes and Scott, 2014). Similarly, regarding involving work roles Maslach (1982) suggested that the emotional frequency and intensity of those interactions are key factors of emotional exhaustion(Morris and Feldman, 2017).On the long term, experiencing high level of emotional labour (either from deep acting or surface acting) builds up strain resulting into psychological costs, such as burnout. The consequences of emotional exhaustion has been predominantly portrayed in the industry of flight attendants. (Rafaeli, Sutton and Llegible, 1987). The emotional exhaustion of the employees  at work will contribute to their general inability to psychologically function appropriately in their social life(Wagner, Barnes and Scott, 2014). This has been shown at home throughout their lack of involvement in family roles or by affecting their somatic health (Ibid.). To a certain extent surface acting have proved to play a more dominant role in lowering the employees well-being than deep acting has(Lee, An and Noh, 2015). However, intense and long term demand of positive expressive control regarding both emotional labour strategies have proved to be dysfunctional for the employee’s health and social abilities.

The level of strain from ‘smiling’ at work is subject to discrepancy between the employee’s personality and geographical culture. This is portrayed by the person-environment fit approach to strain(Edwards and Cooper, 1990). Adding to the eventual experience of emotional dissonance, the level of stress increases when there is a discrepancy between the worker’s values and abilities, and the environmental demands (Edwards and Cooper, 1990). French and his colleagues (1982) through their two versions of this theory argued that S-V (environmental supplies and personal values) or D-A (environmental demands and personal abilities) misfit will produce job strain (Ibid.). In that sense, a socially extraverted employee may not perceive emotional labour as demanding compared to introverts employees(Morris and Feldman, 2017). Furthermore, Gordon (1989) argued that cultures vary in their emotional expectations at work; some cultures may be ‘institutionally oriented’, others may be more ‘impulsively oriented’(Grandey, Fisk and Steiner, 2005). This is successfully shown by the higher level of emotional exhaustion from the U.S employees (institutionally oriented) than from French employees (impulsively oriented)(Ibid.). As a result, the employee well-being is endangered when environmental demands exceeds the employees values and capabilities.

The demand to smile at work heightens gender issues. Service jobs appears to be segregated in regards to the different emotional expectations and interpretations between man and women(Erickson and Ritter, 2001). Indeed, Pierce (1995) argued that female workers are subject to an “emotional double blind” and that occupational based feeling rules are applied differently to women than to men performing identical work (Erickson and Ritter, 2001;148). Hochschild (1983) and Pierce (1995), by focusing on the emotional content, explained that expression of anger tends to be associated to masculinized jobs, which considered as an emotion of power(Erickson and Ritter, 2001). In contrast, feminized jobs will be expected to suppress anger and display positive emotions (Ibid.). For example, “the behaviour of Hochschild’s flight attendants (mostly women), exemplified women’s more differential pattern of emotion management in that they were expected to supress feelings of anger and convey happiness”, decreasing their well-being (Erickson and Ritter, 2001). Therefore, because women are considered to be more expressive than men they engage in more emotional suppression, which increases their level of stress. They are socially disadvantaged in the sense that if male have more power, women are easily taken as scapegoat. By being socially disadvantaged, they experience higher level of burnout due to their constant suppression of anger at work.

The organizational demand to smile at work amplify the issue of status shield in the workplace. Hochschild (1983) suggested that social conditions conspired to make emotion management more prevalent to lower classes, which are expected to have higher tolerance to abuse (Hochschild, 1979)(Erickson and Ritter, 2001). Furthermore, Erickson and Ritter (2001) concluded that “hiding one’s feeling of anger may harm well-being because it is a further indicator of one’s relatively disadvantaged status or lack of control over the emotion management process.” (Erickson and Ritter, 2001:151). These low-status individuals tend to accept their disadvantage by making themselves adaptable and cooperative in order to be treated seriously. This economic inequality influences how they are treated by others. Women are seen as easy targets to verbal abuse thus, their emotional work and control is heightened. (Hochschild, 1979). Indeed, this can be illustrated in the different treatment from passengers in regards to men/women flight attendants(Hochschild, 1979). These ‘accepted’ abuses lead those workers to dangerous mistreatment situations as seen with women that are sexually harassed in the workplace(Idem.). This perverseness of society leads to a dead end for lower status minorities as they are trying to compensate their disadvantages; they are increasingly fitting their controversial image of “emotional lower status individuals”.

To conclude, although emotional rules at work such as smiling may result in good organizational performance, organizations should be alerted of the important impact it has on their workers well-being. As observed, using deep acting over surface acting may be more beneficial and less related to role inauthenticity and emotional exhaustion.  Nevertheless, both are still contributing to serious moral issues in regards to inequality in the workplace. ‘Service with a smile’ is therefore not appropriate if the impact is as damaging on the employee’s life. In order for this demand to be legitimate, organizations should adopt social and practical techniques such as social support for employees, or giving more importance to the person-environment fit theory in order to reach more promising outcomes.


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Edwards, J. R. and Cooper, C. L. (1990) ‘The Person-Environment Fit Approach to Stree: Recurring Problems and Some Suggested Solutions’, Journal of Organizational Behavior, 11(4), pp. 293–307.

Erickson, R. J. and Ritter, C. (2001) ‘Emotional Labor, Burnout, and Inauthenticity: Does Gender Matter?’, Social Psychology Quarterly, 64(2), p. 146. doi: 10.2307/3090130.

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Morris, J. A. and Feldman, D. C. (2017) ‘The Dimensions , Antecedents , and Consequences of Emotional Labor Author ( s ): J . Andrew Morris and Daniel C . Feldman Source : The Academy of Management Review , Vol . 21 , No . 4 ( Oct ., 1996 ), pp . 986-1010 Published by : Academy of Management Sta’, 21(4), pp. 986–1010.

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