Employees Who Force A Smile At Work Are More Likely To Have Drinking Problems, Study Confirms

Employees Who Force A Smile At Work Are More Likely To Have Drinking Problems, Study Confirms

If you work a service sector job where you have to perform emotional labor, you probably have a less controlled relationship with alcohol.

Okay, let's get straight to it. Sometimes, work sucks. For many of us, it sucks all the time. For the lucky few who work jobs that they enjoy, there are still those bad days. Work tends to be so unbearable merely because we have to put on a fake version of ourselves throughout our nine to five working hours, pretending like everything is okay - even when it's not. For those in service sector jobs, this can be even worse because your livelihood probably depends on whether a customer thought they were "nice" or "cheerful" enough. A new study confirms that people who are expected to or do force a smile at work, among exhibiting other behaviors, are more likely to drink post-work, resulting in rather toxic relationships with alcohol, Penn State News reports.


Pretending like everything is okay or manipulating negative emotions so that they aren't tangible or visible to the average person is known as performing emotional labor, that is the process of managing feelings and expressions to fulfill the so-called "emotional requirements" of a job. While emotional labor is performed outside of the workplace too - such as in friendships or romantic relationship - it is when such labor is executed in the workplace that it becomes especially problematic. As per a team of researchers at Penn State and the University at Buffalo who surveyed the drinking habits of people who routinely work with the public, a link can definitely be established between the amount an employee drinks and how much emotional labor they are expected to perform.


The study found that those who regularly faked or boosted positive emotions, such as smiling, or suppressed negative emotions, by, for instance, resisting the urge to roll one's eyes, also indulged in heavier drinking. This, as you can imagine, results in depreciating mental and physical health. Therefore, Professor of psychology at Penn State Alicia Grandey recommended that employers rethink their "service with a smile" policies. "Faking and suppressing emotions with customers was related to drinking beyond the stress of the job or feeling negatively," she explained. "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."


This connection between heavy drinking habits and service sector jobs is, of course, not new. Prior studies have established this link. However, the reasons behind this link was left vast unexplored. Now, Professor Grandey has provided answers. Her hypothesis is that those who use self-control to regulate their emotions at work most likely cannot enforce the same self-control after exhausting it at work in order to monitor and adjust how much they drink. She said, "Smiling as part of your job sounds like a really positive thing, but doing it all day can be draining. 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 research team arrived at this conclusion by surveying phone interviews held with 1,592 employees from across the United States. The original study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, known as the National Survey of Work Stress and Health. Almost 3,000 participants who were representative of the national working population took part in the study. They were asked questions about how often they faked or suppressed emotions - a concept labeled "surface acting" - and how often and how much they drank after work. In addition to this, the study analyzed impulsiveness and how much autonomy employees had at work. 


Professor Grandey further explained, "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. 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. 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." Her suggestion, therefore, was to break down the status quo of service jobs. She advised, "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. And when the emotional effort is clearly linked to financial or relational rewards, the effects aren't so bad." Hopefully, this will help employees develop a more positive attitude towards work while simultaneously improving their relationship with self-control and alcohol.


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