Emotional Intelligence as Moderator of the Surface Acting-Strain Relationship

By Prati, L. Melita; Liu, Yongmei et al. | Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, May 2009 | Go to article overview

Emotional Intelligence as Moderator of the Surface Acting-Strain Relationship


Prati, L. Melita, Liu, Yongmei, Perrewe, Pamela L., Ferris, Gerald R., Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies


The authors examined the moderating role of emotional intelligence in the surface acting-strain relationship. Specifically, the authors hypothesized that higher levels of emotional intelligence were associated with a weaker relationship between surface acting and strain (i.e., depressed mood at work, somatic complaints). Results supported the hypothesized relationships, and the authors found that higher emotional intelligence attenuated the positive relationship between surface acting and depressed mood at work and somatic complaints. Implications of the results, limitations of the study, and directions for future research are discussed.

Keywords: emotional intelligence; surface acting; emotional labor

Introduction

Over the past century, the United States economy evolved from a production orientation to a service orientation. With this evolution came a marked increase in the percentage of jobs requiring direct, face-to-face interactions with customers, in which interpersonal warmth and friendliness are deemed essential (Grandey, 2003). Whereas the golden rule of service with a smile does seem to help generate positive customer reactions, employees do not seem likely to always feel the emotions they need to display, due to a variety of reasons such as fatigue or unpleasant customers (Hochschild, 1983). To observe the organizational policies and emotional norms, employees invest a certain amount of emotional effort in their jobs to try to display organizationally desirable emotions. Hochschild (1983) defined this effort as emotional labor, which is the physical and mental management of one's feelings in order to express organizationally required emotions.

Hochschild (1983) presented an appealing case for the performance of emotional labor. She distinguished two types of emotional labor strategies employed by service workers to satisfy organizational requirements for emotional expression: deep acting and surface acting. Whereas in deep acting service workers try to align their inner feelings with their expressions, in surface acting, the worker simply portrays the situationally appropriate emotion to fulfill job requirements of customer service and care. Using this form of emotional labor, the service worker focuses only on emotional expression by putting on positive emotional masks without trying to actually experience the displayed emotions.

Why one may or may not surface act is one of the topics currently discussed in the literature. For example, Liu, Prati, Perrewe, and Ferris (in press) discussed the choice of emotional labor activities as dependent upon one's personal resources, finding that those with more personal resources at their disposal will be less likely to surface act. The findings of Beal, Trougakos, Weiss, and Green (2006) imply that surface acting is not the choice of individuals who experience more positive emotions than negative and those having a positive self-evaluation of his or her job role. Regardless of the reason one might or might not engage in surface acting, research demonstrates that whereas both forms of acting could have detrimental effects on employee physical and psychological health, surface acting tends to be particularly harmful. This impact appears to be primarily attributed to the disconnect between the employees' true feelings and those they must display (e.g., Abraham, 1998; Brotheridge & Grandey, 2002; Brotheridge & Lee, 2002, 2003; Erickson & Ritter, 2001; Grandey, 2003; Pugliesi, 1999; Totterdell & Holman, 2003; Zapf, Vogt, Seifert, Mertini, & Isic, 1999).

Given the detrimental effects of surface acting, it is important to examine factors that might help attenuate its negative impact. Whereas there are many situational factors, such as the service climate of the organization, that might be of relevance (cf. Liu & Yang, 2006), several researchers have proposed that individual differences also play a role (e. …

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