A Study Has Shown That Forcing Yourself To Smile At Work Can Lead To Heavy Drinking

By Psquared - June 03, 2019

According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the most important things a human can achieve are more emotional and intangible. At the tippy-top of the pyramid is self-actualization. This is when an individual’s full potential has been realized. This also includes their creative pursuits. They have found their calling, and have been able to express themselves fully in a satisfying way. Underneath self-actualization are esteem needs and feelings of love and belonging. Not only are they loved and accepted by others, but they also love and accept themselves.

Doesn’t that just make you feel all warm and gooey and delicious on the inside? Achieving those top levels of the pyramid makes you feel like you’re made out of brownies. Speaking of food, in order to climb to the top of the pyramid and achieve those intangible highest needs, you need the lowest rungs of the pyramid first, which include food, water, warmth and a place to stay where you feel safe and secure. And those physical items cost physical money. And to get them, you need to work… which can really mess up your ability to achieve your higher needs.

Stress At Work


Some people love what they do, and good for them. We should all be so lucky.

But we’re not. So most of us hate our jobs, but stick with them because we can’t achieve our full potential if we’re starving and living on couches well into our 40s.

We should be grateful to our jobs for providing us with money we need to live, but dang it, they can wear on us. And what’s the worst part of jobs?..



As Kay said in Men In Black, “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.”

People are the worst part of any job. And we’re not just talking about your pushy, nosy co-workers that insist on making your nine to five miserable.

If you’ve ever worked in customer service, you know exactly what we’re talking about. Customers can be rude, loud and obnoxious, and the worst part? There’s nothing you can do about it.

Fake That Smile


You know the expression, “the customer is always right?” Yeah, well that expression can go and get bent.

You can’t point out why the customer is wrong, dumb and shouldn’t be allowed to ever procreate. You’d be fired on the spot.

Instead, you have to exercise patience and force a smile. 90 percent of customer service is faking grins at people that don’t deserve them. And according to a study, it turns out this can lead to some serious issues….



A team of researchers at Penn State and the University at Buffalo studied the drinking habits of people who routinely work with the public.

For example, people in food service who work with customers, nurses who work with patients or teachers who work with students.

In these jobs where you’re forced to suppress your true emotions and instead put on a plastic smile, the researchers found… well, what do you think? Want to go on and take a guess?

Heavier Drinking


You guessed correctly. A link was found between individuals who work at places with “service with a smile” policies and heavier drinking after work.

Alicia Grandey, professor of psychology at Penn State said, “Faking and suppressing emotions with customers was related to drinking beyond the stress of the job or feeling negatively.”

So if someone drinks after work, it isn’t necessarily because the job is stressing them out, it’s what they have to do while on the job.

Why Don't You Just Smile?


Any woman who’s ever been catcalled (so basically all of them… ugh) knows how annoying it is being told to smile by a stranger.

A smile is something that should be earned, not given out because you’re told to.

Yet, in many jobs, it’s company policy to flash phony grins at all times, even when every instinct in your being is telling you to roll your eyes. As a result, self-medicating with alcohol is much more likely from these folk.



The study went on to show that heavier drinking brought on by fake smiles wasn’t caused by stress or negative emotions.

Instead, it was a matter of control. You’re on edge all day at work, so when you’re free, you want to let loose.

Grandey said, “It wasn’t just feeling badly 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.”



What’s so bad about smiling? Can’t you fake it until you make it and convince yourself that you’re happy? Not according to the experts

“Smiling as part of your job sounds like a really positive thing, but doing it all day can be draining,” Grandey said.

“In these jobs, there’s also often money tied to showing positive emotions and holding back negative feelings. Money gives you a motivation to override your natural tendencies, but doing it all day can be wearing.”

The Study


This isn’t all conjecture or hypotheses, either. This study is backed up by some rather impressive numbers.

For the study, the researchers used data that they gathered from phone interviews that included 1,592 United States workers.

The data came from a larger survey funded by the National Institutes of Health, called the National Survey of Work Stress and Health, which included almost 3,000 participants who were representative of the U.S. working population. And the data got pretty indepth.

Surface Acting


The data included information about how often the participants faked or suppressed emotions at work, also called “surface acting.”

The data also included how often and how much the participants drank after they were off the clock.

The researchers also measured how impulsive the participants are and how much autonomy they feel they have at work. The researchers ultimately found out that, overall, employees who interacted with the public drank more after work than those who did not.



Surface acting was also linked with drinking after work, and that connection was stronger or weaker depending on the person’s self-control and the job’s extent of self-control.

“The relationship between surface acting and drinking after work was stronger for people who are impulsive or who lack personal control over behavior at work,” Grandey said.

“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.”

One-Time Service Encounters


So what type of jobs specifically lead to someone losing or lacking self-control and throwing back more booze after work?

The researchers found a stronger association between surface acting and drinking when employees who are highly impulsive also worked in jobs where employees have one-time service encounters.

This includes jobs like a call center or coffee shop, rather than relationships, like health care or education. If you only talk to someone the once, you don’t build a rapport and are likely to get angrier under the surface.

Younger Employees


Age may also play a factor in these types of jobs and the level of boozing that goes on once the work day has ended.

Grandey said people in these jobs tend to be younger and in entry-level positions.

Therefore, they may “lack the self-control tendencies and the financial and social rewards that can buffer the costs of surface acting.” Makes sense. These types of positions are seen as stepping stones, so stress from them is doubly annoying.

Personally Rewarding


So entry level jobs with younger employees who don’t see it as a full career can lead to excessive drinking.

But this isn’t the case with all professions, so don’t fear entering the work force. The best bet is to find jobs that you love.

According to Grandey, the results (which were recently published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology) suggest that surface acting is less likely to create problems when the work is personally rewarding to the employee.

For Example


You have to fake positivity at just about any job, but if you’re lucky enough to work in a field you love, it isn’t as bad.

“Nurses, for example, may amplify or fake their emotions for clear reasons,” Grandey said.

“They’re trying to comfort a patient or build a strong relationship. But someone who is faking emotions for a customer they may never see again, that may not be as rewarding, and may ultimately be more draining or demanding.”



So is this study really telling us anything that we all don’t already know?

Faking smiles can be stressful, and stress can lead to loss of self-control and that can lead to heavier drinking after work.

It makes enough sense, but now that there are concrete numbers on the matter, and a strong case that this correlation leads to the causation, this can hopefully be put to good use by employers who want to look out for the well-being of those who work for them.



“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.”

Imagine knowing that you’ll still have to fake smiles, but will have the choice to tell someone they’re wrong every so often and will be rewarded for doing it. Yeah… won’t need to fake that at all.



Hopefully employers will take this to heart. Because communication with employees can be just as stressful as with customers.

“Eighty percent of the US workforce reports feeling stressed because of ineffective company communication, a 30 percent jump from just one year ago,” according to the new Dynamic Signal study.

About two-thirds of those surveyed said that they are ready to quit. The survey also found some 70 percent feel overwhelmed because of broken communication methods and fragmented information. What does this mean?

Burned Out


“We are seeing that workers are simply burned out,” says Ted Collins, branch manager for Robert Half in Midtown, citing that company’s recent study on the matter.

He added that on a scale of 1 to 10 for feeling burnt out, the average score was 5.6. Younger workers, the study said, have a burnout rating of 6.2 (yet another reason they turn to drinking).

“The top reasons were career stagnation, constant interruptions and fires to put out,” he said. Other reasons included low pay and stressful conditions.



And those reasons are listed in higher paying jobs that don’t necessarily include constant customer interactions.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: It’s not healthy to suppress your emotions, whether you’re in the corporate or customer service fields.

Putting on a rictus (a fixed grimace or grin) to try and appease a co-worker or customer will only lead to drinking (and look disturbing af). We all want to be self-actualized and reach the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and won’t be able to do it this way. Here’s to hoping employees will let us all frown more often. That’d put a smile on our faces.