For a better mood, don’t fake it, smile like you mean it

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By Christina Strong
Entirely East Lansing staff writer

A study by Michigan State University business researchers discovered that customer service employees who fake their smiles withdraw from work and damage their mood, but customer service employees whose smiles are sincere withdraw less and improve their mood.

“Smiling at work, I really enjoy doing it, so if I do smile I’m basically having a good day. I feel that is what customers want to see,” said Tiffani Wesley, a cashier at Sparty’s Coffee House at MSU.

Brent Scott assistant professor of management at MSU and former doctoral student Christopher Barnes studied a group of city bus drivers during a two-week period. They observed the effects of real smiling cultivated by positive emotions and pleasant memories and the effects of fake smiling.

The study was one of the first of its kind that examined emotional displays for an extended period of time. 

“Employers may think that simply getting their employees to smile is good for the organization, but that’s not necessarily the case. Smiling for the sake of smiling can lead to emotional exhaustion and withdrawal, and that’s bad for the organization,” Scott said.

Customer service workers agree that fake smiling can do more harm than good.

“I think my mood would overall get worse just because it’s not something that you would be proud to do, something that is insincere. It feels much better to have a genuine human response than to do something just for the sake of appearances,” said Elizabeth Scheffel, a cashier at Goodrich’s Shoprite.

According to the study, customer service workers who fake a smile while still feeling negative emotions may create more harmful feelings. These harmful feelings may be more present in women than in men.

The study also examined the differences of emotional intensity and positive expression between men and women. The study did not explore the reasons behind the differences, but previous research suggested that women showed greater emotional intensity and positive emotions than men.

“Smiling does affect my mood at work because sometimes the people are rude and sometimes it makes it hard to smile. Sometimes fake smiling is not good. I don’t really fake smile at work,” said Krishna Rich, a cafeteria worker at Snyder Phillips Hall at MSU.

The study appears in the February issue of the Academy of Management Journal.

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