Testing the theory

choosing an emotion

Daniel Beal and his co-researchers asked a sample of administrative employees to complete brief surveys during the day for 10 workdays.

“In the mid-afternoon, we asked to what extent they had been hiding or faking their emotions in front of others so far that day. At the end of the day, we asked how mentally and emotionally exhausted they felt at that moment. We also asked about how well they had been performing their core tasks that day.”

Emotional energy in action

To learn about their helping behavior, the researchers contacted a co-worker for each employee whom the employee had identified as someone he or she worked with in close proximity.

“We asked these co-workers to rate their respective colleagues on how helpful they had been at the end of each day of the study.

Finally, we asked the employees about their overall chronic levels of burnout at work.”

The results, Beal says, confirmed the researchers’ ideas.

“During a given day, surface acting predicted higher levels of exhaustion, and exhaustion predicted lower levels of helping. Furthermore, the overall effect was enhanced for people who were chronically burned out.”

The effects of surface acting

He notes that though the daily effects were not large — on an exhausting day, someone might help 5-10 percent less than normal — they add up over time.

Researchers have known for some time that surface acting at work can be personally depleting, Beal says, but have so far focused mostly on consequences for the well-being of the individual employee, such as reduced job satisfaction and increased strain.

“This research extends these effects beyond your own cubicle and suggests that surface acting contributes to a workplace atmosphere that is less supportive and likely less pleasant overall.”

Shadow for bottom of page