Forcing a smile at work linked to heavy drinking: study

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Employees who work in the public eye who force themselves to smile for customers or hide feelings of annoyance may be susceptible to heavy drinking after hours, according to a new study.

Researchers at Penn State and the University of Buffalo studied the drinking habits of employees who work in the public view. Some of the jobs studied include nurses, teachers or food service employees.

The study found a link between those who fake positive emotions or suppress feelings like eye rolling with heavier drinking after their shifts ended.

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Alicia Grandey, professor of psychology at Penn State, believes these type of jobs should limit the need for employees to smile for the customer, according to the study.

“Faking and suppressing emotions with customers was related to drinking beyond the stress of the job or feeling negatively,” said Grandey. “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.”

A study found a connection between people who fake emotion with heavier drinking after work.

A study found a connection between people who fake emotion with heavier drinking after work.
(iStock)

Researchers used data from a survey funded by the National Institutes of Health, called the National Survey of Work Stress and Health, which had included 3,000 participants in the U.S.

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Researchers used phone interview data from 1,592 of those U.S. workers. Data collection was supported by a National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism grant.

The study looked at how often workers who faked or suppressed emotions and how often they drank after hours. It also measured variables like how impulsive the employees are or how much control they have at work.

Researchers found a stronger link between surface acting and drinking with highly impulsive people who work in jobs that don’t develop a relationship with the customers they have to interact with (for example, employees at call centers). People at these types of jobs are usually young and entry-level professionals who don’t have the social or financial benefits that can outweigh the costs of having to “fake it” all the time, according to the study.

“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,” said Grandey. “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.”

Grandey said people who work in more rewarding jobs will be less likely to drink afterward.

“Nurses, for example, may amplify or fake their emotions for clear reasons,” Grandey said. “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.”

She hopes this study will change how bosses treat their employees.

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“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.”



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