Want Your Employees To Display Positive Emotions?

If your business relies on delivering high quality service to customers, I hope you recognize that the answer to this question is “yes.” Studies have shown that employees’ display of positive emotions toward both customers and coworkers enhances service delivery.

A new study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology provides additional support for the efficacy of creating a positive service climate for your employees if you want to enable them to display the service delivery enhancing positive emotions. A service climate is positive to the extent that employees share the perception that supportive resources and conditions (e.g. training, managerial practices, supportive colleagues, HR policies and practices) are available to help them deliver quality customer service.

This study of 211 frontline employees and 63 supervisors of a fashion retailer in China looked at how the emotional exhaustion – feelings of being overwhelmed and exhausted by work – of both employees and their supervisors affected the positive emotional display of employees. As expected, emotionally exhausted employees were less likely to display positive emotions. When the employee’s supervisor was also emotionally exhausted, the employees were even less likely to display positive emotions.

But the severity of this combined emotional exhaustion effect was itself affected by the service climate. When the service climate was less positive, the emotional exhaustion of the supervisor combined with the employee’s emotional exhaustion to have a big effect on the employee’s positive emotional display. But when the service climate was more positive, the relationship between an employee’s emotional exhaustion and positive emotional display was not affected by the supervisor’s emotional exhaustion.

…A positive service climate seems to make employees immune to the potentially adverse impacts of their own and supervisors’ emotional exhaustion. This finding suggests that a positive service climate facilitates employees to internalize service quality norms and to generate a strong motivational force to persist their efforts to deliver positive emotions. However, without such a positive climate, employees are more likely to rely on their supervisors’ state of emotional exhaustion in responding to their own feelings of emotional exhaustion and determining the appropriate level of effort to put into positive emotional display. (p. 373).

If your business is bleeding customers because of lousy service, it’s likely because your employees are so frazzled by your poor management practices and policies that they are simply unable to muster the energy to continuously remain positive at work. It’s a double whammy when your poor practices and policies also affect your supervisors.

Be smart. Consider providing your employees with a positive and supportive service climate one of your primary responsibilities. If you are really smart, you will let your employees help you improve your service climate. Partner with your employees to fix the lousy systems that disable them from impressing your customers.


Bret L. Simmons, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Management at The University of Nevada, Reno. He earned his doctorate in Business Administration at Oklahoma State University. Bret blogs about leadership and social business at his website Positive Organizational Behavior. You can also find him on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.


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