There’s an emotional and physical price to pay when people are forced to display feelings that don’t coincide with how they’re actually feeling.
Researchers followed 78 bus drivers in the north-western United States. Over two weeks they answered surveys before work, after their shifts and just before they went to bed. The questions focused on hours of sleep, mood during and after work, and whether or not they had put on a ‘performance’ or ‘mask’ during that day.
Bus drivers wearing fake smiles were more likely to suffer insomnia that night. Emotional acting was also linked to reports of feeling anxious or stressed. It also increased the likelihood of feeling emotionally exhausted at the end of the day. These people even reported more family conflict at home.
Drivers who reported behaving authentically, by not faking smiles or smiling only when genuinely happy, had much better sleep quality on the nights in question.
The findings were reported in Personnel Psychology.
“[Employees] could smile because they genuinely like their customers or they are simply happy, and in that case they are not engaging in what we call ’emotional labor’ because they are not faking,” explained lead researcher David Wagner, Ph.D. of Singapore Management University, in an email to the Huffington Post.
“When they put on that happy face but don’t really feel it — that’s when we start to have problems.”
I spoke to someone recently who said they’d rather customer service was fast and efficient than slow and personable. That’s a personal preference. But this study, although it’s a small sample group, suggests that service with a smile isn’t as harmless and positive as we may think.