If you fake this a lot at work, you may develop a drinking problem

Drinking after a long awful shift is a pretty ubiquitous hobby, and now a new study aims to unpack the professional expectations that energize it.

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Few things are as exhausting as pretending to be entertained by a self-absorbed dud. Unfortunately, some Americans occupy career fields that encourage them to smile through awful joke after awful joke until they punch out and swan dive into whiskey river.

Drinking after a long awful shift is a pretty ubiquitous hobby, and now a new study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology aims to unpack the professional expectations that energize it.


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Fake smiles equal real drunk

Researchers from Penn State University and The Unversity of Buffalo reviewed data from phone interviews of over a thousand Americans that work in fields that require them to habitually interact with the public, namely teachers, nurses, and food service workers. Additional data was analyzed of nearly 3,000 participants of a larger survey funded by The National Institutes of Health.

Participants were questioned about how often they engage in what the study referred to as surface acting at work, how often they drank after their shifts, and how much autonomy they feel they have at their respective jobs.

Surface acting is the kind of emotional labor acting in which a person has to fake emotions to meet certain social or work obligations, some of which include subduing personal turmoil, suppressing physical gestures or curbing verbal objections.

According to the researchers, their study disclosed a “robust link”  between frequently faking positive emotions or suppressing negative emotions during work and heavier drinking after work.

Alicia Grandey, professor of psychology at Penn State, explained, “Faking and suppressing emotions with customers was related to drinking beyond the stress of the job or feeling negative.” Grandley continues, “It wasn’t just feeling bad that makes them reach for a drink. Instead, the more they have to control negative emotions at work, the less they are able to control their alcohol intake after work.”

Grandey went on to make an interesting postulation about a potential contributing factor. Because many service industry jobs present monetary incentives for advertising a warm disposition, employees are often encouraged to subdue their frustration to an unhealthy degree.   Overriding our “natural tendencies,” for an extended period time can wear on us-it’s a draining procedure.

Grandey concludes, “Employers may want to consider allowing employees to have a little more autonomy at work like they have some kind of choice on the job,” Grandey said. “And when the emotional effort is clearly linked to financial or relational rewards, the effects aren’t so bad.”

Next time a customer says a dumb thing, feel free to make Jim Halprin face-do it for your liver.


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CW Headley|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at cheadley@theladders.com.