Researchers have concluded that people who tend to hide their feelings and have to put up a fake smile are more likely to become heavy drinkers. This is particularly worrying for employees who have to suppress their emotions and act positively.
A group of researchers from the University at Buffalo, New York, and the Penn State University investigated the drinking patterns of people who were employed in places where contact with the public was rather frequent. This included people from different professions like paramedic staff who had to tend to patients, teachers who had to come across different students throughout the day and order takers from various fast food outlets.
The study found a positive correlation between heavy post-shift drinking and having to regularly fake positive emotions at work. The link also proved to be true for those who actively suppressed negative emotions at work.
A professor of psychology from the Penn State University, Alicia Grandey, was particularly critical of the “service with a smile” policies that certain employers had in place. She added that after analyzing the results from the study the employers need to rethink and restructure their policies.
Grandey said, “Faking and suppressing emotions with customers was related to drinking beyond the stress of the job or feeling negative. It wasn’t just feeling bad 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.”
Previously, there was enough case evidence available that links service workers to drinking problems but the underlying reason was unknown. Grandey put forward the hypothesis that the amount of self-control that a person can exercise is limited. While dealing with people they use a lot of self-control and that limits their ability to control the amount of liquor that they consume.
“Smiling as part of your job sounds like a really positive thing, but doing it all day can be draining,” Grandey said. “In these jobs, there’s also often money tied to showing positive emotions and holding back negative feelings. Money gives you a motivation to override your natural tendencies, but doing it all day can be wearing.”
The data used by the researchers was sourced from around 1600 interviews conducted over phones. The interviews were of workers currently working in the US.
The data itself was representative of a larger data pool that was collected by the National Institutes of Health when conducting the National Survey of Work Stress and Health. Almost 3,000 people from the U.S. working population were part of the survey.
The data was tabulated and different variables were tested like the frequency of drinking and how often “surface acting” was employed by them during work. Other variables were also used to measure the level of comfort, control, and impulse that each individual possessed and exercised.
The researchers found a strong correlation between weak self-control and high public interaction and drinking. Surface acting was the most important trigger but the impulse to drink after work was dampened by the person’s traits of self-control and the amount of pressure that he is subjected to at the job. The greater the pressure the greater the impulse to drink.
“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 said. “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.”
The researchers pointed out in the results that the people who were highly impulsive had a greater tendency to drink after work if the work involved a one-off service encounter like that of a call center or a fast food counter. In contrast, the people who were equally impulsive but had a more relationship oriented job like that of departing education or healthcare could exercise more self-restraint.
Grandey’s analyzed the aforementioned jobs and had the opinion that the people in these jobs are generally younger and in entry-level positions. They lack self-control capabilities and experience. Moreover, the jobs at the entry-level do not come with financial and social rewards that can buffer the costs of surface acting.
The research and its findings were published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. The findings suggest that the problems caused by surface acting are hugely curtailed if the work is rewarding.
Grandey explained, “Nurses, for example, may amplify or fake their emotions for clear reasons. They’re trying to comfort a patient or build a strong relationship. But someone who is faking emotions for a customer they may never see again, that may not be as rewarding, and may ultimately be more draining or demanding.”
Alice was of the opinion that the employers should use the findings of the research to create and further improve their workplace environments.
“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 said. “And when the emotional effort is clearly linked to financial or relational rewards, the effects aren’t so bad.”