Please Smile While You Serve: Do Employee Pay a Hidden Cost for “Serving with a Smile?”

Abstract

In service organizations, employees are expected to regulate their emotions and express organizationally desired emotions. Consequently, service employees frequently engage in emotional labour. This paper aimed to investigate the relationship of emotional labour strategies, namely surface acting, deep acting with emotional exhaustion and emotional well-being. For the present study, data was collected from a total of 204 employees working in various hotels in India. Existing scales were used to measure the variables. The results of the study indicate a negative relationship between surface acting and emotional well-being, whereas a positive correlation was observed between surface acting and emotional exhaustion. In addition, a positive association was observed between deep acting and emotional wellbeing. Implications of the study are discussed. The paper concludes with an emphasis that service organizations, especially hotels, should encourage their employees to use deep acting more frequently than surface acting during service encounters.

Introduction

In recent times, emotions have gained ample significance in the business world, especially in the service industry. In service organizations, employees are required to display positive emotions during service encounters and are expected to “serve with a smile,” while controlling or suppressing negative emotions. Regulation and expression of organizationally desired emotions in service interactions is found to have significant consequences for organizations. Emphasizing on the significance of positive emotional display in service encounters, Hennig-Thurau, Groth, Paul, and Gremler (2006) propose that having a friendly service staff and providing “service with a smile” have become an unquestionable mantra for the success of service firms these days. Research literature in service management and related disciplines has also demonstrated that positive affective displays in service interactions and friendliness and good cheer of employees are strongly related to many positive organizational outcomes, such as customers’ satisfaction with service quality, increased customer commitment and loyalty, customer retention, and customers’ willingness to pass positive comments to others (Grandey, 2003; Gountas, Ewing, & Gountas, 2007; Groth, Hennig- Thurau,&Walsh, 2009; Tsai&Huang, 2002).

Service organizations generally have explicit or implicit emotional display rules that indicate which emotions employees should publicly express and which they should suppress during service interactions – a phenomenon broadly known as emotional labour (Hochschild, 1983). Emotional labour has been defined as the regulation and expression of organizationally desired emotions in order to fulfil the emotional display requirements of organizations (Ashforth & Humphrey, 1993; Grandey, 2000; Hochschild, 1983). The construct of emotional labour has gained substantial attention these days as it helps management researchers and practitioners to better understand how service organizations can better manage their employees’ positive display of emotions to customers (Hennig-Thurau et al., 2006).

Researchers argue that employees generally use two methods to manage their emotions: surface acting and deep acting. Extant research literature indicates that both of these emotional labour strategies have different impacts on various organizational outcomes. Deep acting is found to enhance customer satisfaction and loyalty, whereas use of surface acting is observed to have a negative influence on customer satisfaction and loyalty (Groth et al., 2009; Hennig-Thurau et al., 2006).

In addition to influencing organizational outcomes, surface and deep acting have been observed to have different effects on employee health and well-being. Research highlighted the deleterious effect of surface acting on employee well-being (Grandey, 2003; Johnson & Spector, 2007). On the other hand, no consistent results have been observed for the effect of deep acting on employeewell-being. Findings of some studies indicate that deep acting enhances employee well-being (e.g., Johnson & Spector, 2007), whereas some other researchers observed that deep acting has a negative impact on employee well-being (Brotheridge & Lee, 2003; Judge, Woolf, & Hurst, 2009).

The hospitality industry requires a very high level of face-to- face interaction between frontline employees and customers; hence, hotel employees frequently engage in emotional labour. Engaging in emotional labour very frequently may have a deleterious impact on employee health and well-being, and ultimately on their job performance. There is a lack of empirical research carried out in the hospitality industry to investigate the relationship of emotional labour strategies with employee well-being, particularly in the Indian context. To reduce this void in research, the current study aims to investigate the relationship of emotional labour strategies i.e., surface acting and deep acting with emotional exhaustion and emotional well-being among employees working in the hospitality industry in India.

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