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  • Tamar Balkin

Are Smiles In The Workplace Always Worthwhile?

“When you're smilin', when you're smilin'

The whole world smiles with you

When you're laughin', when you're laughin'

The sun comes shinin' through"

When you’re smiling the whole world smiles with you by Frank Sinatra

(click here for three delightful versions of the song)

Personal photo of check in line at Sydney Airport, I was actually standing in a repurposed car park as there was insufficient space inside the terminal for the queue.

"Our day-to-day positive emotions function as nutrients for our overall wellbeing.

Today’s positive emotions do not simply exemplify today’s wellbeing, they also help to create next month’s increases in wellbeing"

Dr. Fredrickson

Last week I flew to the Gold Coast to attend the Australian Psychological Society's Industrial and Organisational Psychology Conference. Knowing that there is chaos and long wait times at airports, I was curious to observe the behaviour of the people travelling. Surprisingly, the mood in the long queues was very calm and amicable even for people who were in a rush to catch their flights. I am aware that Australians are rule followers and often very polite when queuing yet something else was going on. As I was pondering this phenomenon, I noticed the friendly smiles and calm helpful disposition of the airline staff. Regular readers would know that emotions are contagious. Recent research has demonstrated that when a smile is shared, whether it was genuine or not, both parties’ experience an elevated mood. In fact, an employee’s display of positive emotions played a critical role in predicting the customer’s display of positive emotions which in turn reinforces the employee’s positive mood. What was fascinating was the finding that a smile over the phone can have the same impact as a smile in person. Regular readers would be aware that an individual’s positive mood facilitates upward spirals toward better emotional well-being. When feedback is immediate and specific it is most informative. As it is a real response, a customer’s emotional reaction to employee behaviour can be more informative than a formal performance appraisal. Roles with regular spontaneous positive feedback from customers provides an inbuilt non-financial reward for employees. Thus, when a customer returns a smile, the employee feels the satisfaction of a job well done.

Annie (1982) - You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile Scene (6/10) | Movieclips


Word of caution:


“Most people would prefer to be in charge of their own smiles. Putting on that smile to perform one’s work role can have surprising costs depending on how the emotions are regulated.”

Alicia A. Grandey


Performing emotional labour – that is, regulating one’s emotions for a wage – can make for satisfying work when employees are given the freedom to choose how they perform the behaviours. However, research has demonstrated that suppressing and faking emotional expressions depletes personal resources and predicts job strain. Thus, when an employee bears the brunt of poor strategic business decisions and is expected to smile regardless, it will increase the likelihood of stress, job strain, cynicism, and burnout. Whilst regular readers would know that personal control has been shown to have a buffering effect against draining situations, often the customer facing employee has very limited control. In addition, self-regulation depends on a limited pool of mental resources. If these resources are depleted, it increases the likelihood that the employee may behave inappropriately towards an aggrieved customer. It is therefore incumbent on all leaders when problems arise to not just ask staff to smile, but to take steps to address the current predicament. In addition it is critical to talk to staff, inquire about issues and look upstream to learn how to minimise the likelihood of similar situations in the future.

Sia - You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile (Annie, 2014 Film Version)

Final thoughts:

I have included two versions of the song "you're never fully dressed without a smile" from the musical Annie, I hope you enjoy them. Please email me to share your thoughts on the messages they convey. Regular readers would be aware that if an organisation has a genuine strategic focus on minimising preventable friction and maximising employee wellbeing, then smiling can be delightful for all. As I was privileged to attend all three days of the college of organisational psychologists’ conference, I shall endeavour to share with you the latest research in leadership, self-awareness, and wellbeing in my future blogs.



Podcast: Professor Dan Cable and comedian Akin Omobitan Service with a Smile: Who Benefits Most? SQUEEZING THE ORANGE 8 JUN ⋅ 30:57 Association for Psychological Science - APS. (n.d.). What ‘Service With a Smile’ Means for Employee Well-Being. [online] Available at: Grandey, A.A., Fisk, G.M. and Steiner, D.D. (2005). Must ‘Service With a Smile’ Be Stressful? The Moderating Role of Personal Control for American and French Employees.. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90(5), pp.893–904. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.90.5.893. Kim, E. and Yoon, D.J. (2012). Why does service with a smile make employees happy? A social interaction model. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97(5), pp.1059–1067. doi:10.1037/a0029327. Perminiene, M. (n.d.). Do you expect service with a smile? There’s a dark side to putting on a happy face. [online] The Conversation. Available at: [Accessed 18 Oct. 2021]. Hülsheger, U.R. and Schewe, A.F. (2011). On the costs and benefits of emotional labor: A meta-analysis of three decades of research. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 16(3), pp.361–389. doi:10.1037/a0022876. Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56(3), 218–226.

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