Behind a painted smile: The psychological costs of customer service

The effort of always appearing friendly and cheerful with customers can leave staff feeling emotionally exhausted and cynical.

That is the finding presented today to the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology in Chester. The psychologist giving the paper is Cristina Quinoñes-Garcia from the University of Northampton Business School.

Psychologists from the University of Northampton Business School, the Autonoma University of Madrid and the University of Southampton asked 199 customer service employees to complete a questionnaire. This measured the extent to which they were required to simulate emotion in their jobs, the amount of effort they had to put in to achieve this and the extent to which they were emotionally exhausted and cynical.

The results showed that people who felt they had to make a greater effort than most to simulate cheerfulness were significantly likely to be left feeling both emotionally exhausted and cynical.

Cristina Quinoñes-Garcia says: “This study has two practical implications. The perceived effort of candidates should be evaluated at the recruitment stage as this could help identify those individuals who are more vulnerable to burnout. And organisations should have mechanisms in place to help employees build resources that help them cope with the emotional labour they have to carry out when dealing with customers.”