A study has found offering up fake smiles while at work may lead employees to drink more heavily when their shift comes to an end.
Writing this on a bank holiday Monday, I know all about how it feels to feign happiness at work. But as I spend most of the day staring at a computer screen, thankfully I don’t have to exercise my smile muscles too often.
It was a very different story when I worked in a cafe, however. Even when I was stressed, rushed off my feet and drained of all energy, I had to greet every customer with a smile.
God forbid I let my cheeks relax and unleash the resting b*tch face. I’d either have been scolded by my boss for looking miserable, or met with a ‘cheer up love, it might never happen!’ from a customer who was happily stuffing their face with cake.
Needless to say, I always welcomed a nice beverage when my shift came to an end, and according to researchers at Penn State and the University at Buffalo I’m not alone.
The study, published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, looked at the drinking habits of people who work with the public, and found employees who forced themselves to smile and be happy in front of customers were more at risk for heavier drinking after work.
Researchers examined data from a previous survey, the National Survey of Work Stress and Health, which comprised phone interviews with 1,592 workers in the US.
Participants were asked how often they faked a smile, how often they drank after work, how much control they felt they had on the job and how impulsive they were.
Results revealed faking positive emotions and resisting more natural ones, like the urge to roll your eyes, can be so draining for some that it can lead to alcohol consumption.
Alicia Grandey, professor of psychology at Penn State, spoke about the results of the study in a statement and advised how employers might want to reconsider policies which encourage ‘service with a smile’.
Faking and suppressing emotions with customers was related to drinking beyond the stress of the job or feeling negatively.
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.
Grandey went on:
Smiling as part of your job sounds like a really positive thing, but doing it all day can be draining.
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.
The relationship between fake smiling, also called ‘surface acting’, and drinking after work was especially strong for impulsive people, those who lack personal control over behaviour at work, and those who work in jobs where they only have one-time encounters with customers.
If you’re impulsive or constantly told how to do your job, it may be harder to reign in your emotions all day, and when you get home, you don’t have that self-control to stop after one drink.
Age could also be a factor for employees at risk of heavy drinking, as the researchers noted most workers in retail and restaurant work tend to be younger, meaning they may not have the self-control needed to fake a smile without later over-drinking.
Grandey did point out the effects weren’t so bad when the emotional effort was clearly linked to financial or relational rewards, but added:
Money gives you a motivation to override your natural tendencies, but doing it all day can be wearing.
A lot of people just have to grin and bear their way through the day when working with the public, and it’s only natural to crave an ice cold drink when you’re finally free – but remember, everything in moderation!