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According to an article this morning, a psychology professor from Penn State conducted a study and determined that employees who have to “play nice” with customers — especially customer service reps, nurses, and baristas — have a greater tendency to drink to excess when they get home from work. The findings were published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.

If you had to be fake-cheerful all day long, you’d want to drink, too.

According to the professor who led the study, conducted with the University of Buffalo, “the more [the employees] have to control negative emotions at work, the less they are able to control their alcohol intake after work.” Suppressing negative emotions or faking positive ones are both referred to as “surface acting.”

I guess this means that if you are naturally mild-mannered or cheerful, then you may not feel the need to get drunk after work. But if you aren’t being yourself, you may.

And it’s even worse if you are impulsive by nature, or lack control over your working conditions. According to the professor, “If you’re impulsive or constantly told how to do your job, it may be harder to rein in your emotions all day, and when you get home, you don’t have that self-control to stop after one drink.”

The correlation between “surface acting” and drinking was the greatest for employees who had one-on-one contact with customers, like customer service representatives and baristas. The correlation was weaker for employees in education and health care. However, the professor noted that employees in one-on-one customer service positions tended to be younger and therefore probably had less control over their work environments (maybe over themselves, too). In addition, in those positions it may not be obvious that the “fake nice” is for a worthy cause — in contrast to a profession like health care, in which a nurse may be faking nice to comfort a patient who is genuinely in pain or distress.

As solutions, the professor suggested that employers give employees more control over the work environment (which may or may not be possible) and providing financial or other incentives for outstanding customer service.

That’s why we have “Employee of the Month,” right?

Robin Shea is a Partner with the law firm of Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP and has more than 20 years’ experience in employment litigation, including Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (including the Amendments Act), the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act, the Equal Pay Act, and the Family and Medical Leave Act; and class and collective actions under the Fair Labor Standards Act and state wage-hour laws; defense of audits by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs; and labor relations. She conducts training for human resources professionals, management, and employees on a wide variety of topics.


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