Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

The Authenticity of Positive Emotional Displays: Client Responses to Leisure Service Employees

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

The Authenticity of Positive Emotional Displays: Client Responses to Leisure Service Employees

Article excerpt

"Enthusiasm is contagious, so let yours shout. "

"If you're having a bad day, that's your problem, not [the customers'], and it's up to you to put on a smile and fake it so well that they assume it's your birthday. "

-Training manuals for leisure services employees

Leisure services are designed to refresh, stimulate and entertain; to provide pleasurable emotional experiences for people in their free time (Hull, 1990; Tinsley & Tinsley, 1986). Companies who provide leisure services recognize the need to create positive feelings in their customers. As the training-manual quotes above illustrate, leisure-service providers exhort employees to manage their own emotions so as to encourage the customers' enjoyment-to be a "pleasant host" for the paying customers (Holyfield, 1999, p. 7; Sharpe, 2005). Thus, employees in the leisure industry are often compelled to display positive emotions, whether they are feeling them or not. This management of emotions has been termed "emotional labor" (Hochschild, 1983), and extensive research has demonstrated that the control of employees' emotional expression is a feature of a wide range of service jobs-from bank tellers and hotel receptionists to accountants and academic staff (Andrus, Ott, & Donnelly, 1990; Grayson, 1998; Panikkos & Gibbs, 2004; Pugh, 2001).

To what extent does emotional labor actually influence customers' behavior? It generally has been assumed that appropriate emotional expression on the part of employees will create satisfaction and loyalty among customers, but relatively few researchers have tested these assumptions empirically (Pugh, 2001; Tsai & Huang, 2002). Similarly there is limited research on the question of the authenticity of these emotions, that is, does it matter to customers whether the employee's emotions are genuine or not (Grandey, Fisk, Mattila, Jansen, & Sideman, 2005; Grayson, 1998)?

In the leisure field, scholars have noted that there is a paucity of research on emotions, and on the emotional demands of leisure employees' jobs (Lee & Shafer, 2002; Price, Arnould, & Tierney, 1995; Sharpe, 2005; Stewart, 1998). The goals of this study are to explore customer perceptions and emotional expressions-to examine whether customers can detect differences between authentic and fake emotional displays, and to test whether customer perceptions of authenticity have an impact on satisfaction and loyalty.

Our review of the literature begins with a description of the research that links the emotional display of employees with customer satisfaction. We then present research findings on people's ability to detect authenticity-the extent to which emotion expressed by employees is genuinely felt-drawing on basic psychological literature (Weiss, 2002) as well as organizational literature (Pugh, 2001). Finally, we propose specific relationships between authenticity, customer perceptions and customer behavior in the leisure domain. The leisure context used here is group fitness instruction. The fitness instructor is enjoined to demonstrate skill, encourage participants' progress and ensure safety, all while displaying friendliness, vitality and enthusiasm, so as to provide a fun learning environment where customers are happy to spend their free time. This study examines the authenticity of the emotional displays that fitness instructors send to clients, and how the clients react to those displays.

Literature Review

Employee Positive Emotions and Customer Satisfaction

The management of impressions through control of one's emotions has a long history of scholarly attention (Goffman, 1959). Hochschild (1983) coined the term "emotional labor" to describe the emotional expressions that workers are expected to display on the job so as to ensure customer satisfaction. Since then, considerable research attention has been paid to how employees work to display appropriate emotions, how they actually feel, and the consequences to the employees themselves of this emotion work (Ashforth & Humphrey, 1993; Côté & Morgan, 2002; Kruml & Geddes, 2000; Morris & Feldman, 1996; Rafaeli & Sutton, 1987). …

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