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Research shows that positive affective displays in customer service interactions are positively related to customers’ perception of overall service quality. Consequently, the way customer service employees manage their feelings is seen as an important aspect of providing their services. In most service contexts, employees are expected to express positive emotions, e.g., be cheerful and suppress negative emotions, such as resentment. Emotional labor is regarded as a type of impression management, because it involves deliberate effort undertaken by service workers in order to adhere to organizational display rules when dealing with customers. Surface acting is an emotional labor strategy and consists of managing observable emotional expression without modifying underlying genuine feelings (service with a fake smile). Research shows that surface acting is positively related to employee burnout. The present study (N=180) was designed to examine the effects of surface acting on emotional exhaustion while controlling for employees’ trait emotional intelligence. The results demonstrated that employees who declared greater use of surface acting during their interactions with customers reported more symptoms of emotional exhaustion. As predicted, however, this effect was observed only among employees low in trait emotional intelligence. The discussion encompasses the implications these results may have for managing emotional expression in public performance that may result in reducing performance anxiety.
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