Flickr/ Dennis Yang
There are plenty of businesses known for their stellar, consistent customer service. These places are known for having employees with smiling faces and chipper voices, but the average person is not that exuberant for eight hours a day. A recent study has found a strong correlation between being required to smile and exude happiness as part of a job and drinking too much after work. What are the reasons for the connection, and what can employees and employers in the customer service industry do about it?
Emotionally demanding jobs
Whether a person is a waitress or a receptionist, working in front of the public requires being cordial. Employees who smile a lot, in these settings, are praised and there have been plenty of people reprimanded or even fired from these front line service industry positions for not being friendly enough. Especially in fast food, there are even some businesses that require smiling at every person or shouting some branded greeting at every customer who walks through the door.
To be clear, the study does not purport that the act of being nice all day is so exhausting that it drives a person to drink. Employees are regular people and they are not happy all the time. A receptionist, for example, has to be a smiling face that greets visitors even if he or she is feeling sad that day because of a personal problem. Many businesses follow the “customer is always right” mantra, but there are many customers who treat employees in a rude and derogatory manner. Even with the most outrageous customer, these types of employees are forced to plaster on a smile and continue behaving pleasantly. This is where the problem comes in. The types of jobs require employees to suppress their very real negative emotions.
Why “surface acting” leads to over-drinking
Even for adults, it is much easier for a person to control his or her actions than to control his or her emotions. The aforementioned study referred to smiling and being friendly even when an employee may be annoyed or upset as “surface acting.” Regardless of the reason for doing so, this is a form of emotional suppression. It takes a large mental toll on a person to evoke an emotion, hour after hour, that they do not truly feel. The process only becomes more exhausting if the person is also covering over emotions that are the complete opposite of those they are forcing themselves to show.
By the time people in these situations leave work, they are mentally tired. They are also tired of telling themselves no and of hiding their feelings. A person who is inclined to go drinking after work is much more likely to drink too much because they want to let loose and stop trying to control the way they feel. Their emotions are like spring that has been squeezed for eight hours. When they finally let go, the spring jumps out a little too far.
What you can do?
Obviously, a person who is not inclined to drink after work would not have the problem of overdrinking. People who have to use fake smiles at work should set and stick to a drinking limit for themselves if they choose to drink after work. Using stress management techniques to help control emotions throughout the day can make an emotionally demanding job easier to cope with.
Employers can help curtail this problem by being reasonable about the emotional requirements of employees. While customer service may be essential, a wide toothy grin may be optional. Regular drinking may cause employees to miss work and require costly medical treatment. Customers know when an employee is being insincere, so overly stringent policies about smiling or the way customers are treated could have an offputting effect on some clientele. A more emotionally lax workplace is better in the long-term for all involved.