Faking emotions at work is bad, study says

Hyperaxion Jan 19, 2020

Researchers say that masking emotions can damage relationships at work and affect your mental health.

Most people believe negative emotions have no place at work, and therefore must be hidden at all costs with fake positive emotions (as difficult as that may be). However, a study from the University of Arizona (USA) recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology indicates that this type of behavior can be harmful.

How we regulate emotions at work

According to Allison Gabriel, associate professor of management and organizations at Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona, we have two ways of regulating emotions at work:

  • Surface performance: “Surface acting is to fake what you are demonstrating to others. Inside, you may be upset or frustrated; but on the outside, you are striving to be pleasant or positive,” she explained in a statement;
  • Deep performance: “Deep acting is when you try to change what you feel inside. When you are acting deep, in fact, you are trying to align how you feel with how you interact with others.”

Four profiles have been identified

In the study conducted by Gabriel and his colleagues, employees from different sectors, including education, industry, engineering, and finance, were analyzed. In the end, the researchers were able to identify four distinct profiles among the volunteers:

  • non-actors, who invest little in deep and surface action;
  • low actors, who demonstrate low levels of deep and surface performance;
  • deep actors, who have higher levels of deep acting but low levels of surface acting;
  • regulators, who have high levels of both types of performance.

The purposes of regulating emotions

Gabriel and his team also found different purposes for regulating emotions and separated them into the categories “prosocial” (which involves the intention to be a good co-worker and cultivate positive relationships) and “impression management” (which is more strategic and includes gaining access to resources and building a good appearance with colleagues and managers). The study showed that while those with the regulatory profile fit more into the impression management group, deep actors were more likely to enter the prosocial category.

Deep actors have more benefits at work

Because of their behavior, deep actors have more benefits at work: they gain more support from colleagues, receive more advice and have more help with their tasks. The reports of research volunteers with this profile also pointed to more success in career goals and greater confidence placed by other employees.

Regulators feel less authentic

On the other hand, when regulators strive to only fake emotions, their well-being is affected. “[They had] higher rates of emotional exhaustion, and they feel less authentic at work,” said Gabriel.

Aqueles com perfil regulador apresentaram níveis mais altos de exaustão emocional (Foto: bruce mars / Pexels)
Regulators showed higher levels of emotional exhaustion (Photo: bruce mars / Pexels)

In the long run, it’s not worth it

Based on these discoveries, the researcher argues that it is useless to conceal your true feelings without really dealing with your emotions. “Maybe putting a smile on your face just to get away from an interaction is a quicker way out, but in the long run, it undermines efforts to improve your health and your working relationships,” she says.

“In many ways, it comes down to ‘let’s be nice to each other’. Not only will people feel better, but their performance will improve and their relationships will improve.”


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