Fake-smiling at work makes you drink more at home, study reveals

They found a link between those who regularly faked or amplified positive emotions, like...
They found a link between those who regularly faked or amplified positive emotions, like smiling, or suppressed negative emotions — resisting the urge to roll one's eyes, for example — and heavier drinking after work. (Source: Pexels)
Updated: Apr. 16, 2019 at 9:20 PM EDT
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UNIVERSITY PARK, PA (WIS) - Do you find yourself code-switching more during the day and throwing back shots of whiskey more at night? There might be a reason for that.

A team of researchers at Penn State and the University of Buffalo studied the drinking habits of people who “routinely work with the public,” for example, food service workers, nurses who work with patients, or teachers.

The findings of their study, released on April 10, showed a link between “those who regularly faked or amplified” positivity, such as smiling, “or suppressed negative emotions,” i.e., stopping yourself from rolling your eyes, to heavier drinking after work.

Alicia Grandey, professor of psychology at Penn State, said the results suggest that employers may want to reconsider "service with a smile" policies.

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

Grandey said the team’s research showed a connection between service workers and problematic drinking, but the reasons are unknown. Her hypothesis is that “by faking or suppressing emotions in front of customers, employees may be using a lot of self-control. Later, those employees may not have a lot of self-control left to regulate how much alcohol they drink.”

"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 also includes information on how often the participants “faked or suppressed emotions” in a phrase called “surface acting,” and how often they drank after work. The researchers also dove into the impulsiveness of each participant and how much autonomy they have at work.

Long story short, the study found that employees who interacted with the public drank more than those who did not. It also showed that “surface acting” is also connected with off-the-clock drinking, and “that connection was stronger or weaker depending on the person’s trait-like self-control and the job’s extent of self-control.”

Furthermore, Grandey notes that folks in this group tend to be younger, entry-level workers who may lack self-control and “the financial and social rewards” that would counteract the need to participate in “surface acting” while on the clock.

"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."

Grandey said that employers could help the fight against surface acting by creating healthier 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.”

The researchers used data from phone interviews with 1,592 U.S. workers. You can find the published study here.

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