Don’t fake it: Study finds remaining authentic at work results in greater productivity

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — We all have our bad days. No one is going to wake up each and every morning in a cheery mood. Sometimes we all feel just a little bit grumpier than usual, and that’s just a part of being human. Yet once we get to the office, many in the workforce feel obligated to hide their emotions, whether they be frustration, anger, or sadness. Interestingly, a new study finds keeping one’s behavior at the office authentic will result in greater productivity and a better relationship with co-workers. In other words: act how you feel, and don’t fake it.

“We found that people who put forth effort to display positive emotions towards others at work – versus faking their feelings – receive higher levels of support and trust from co-workers,” explains Chris Rosen, management professor at the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, in a release. “These people also reported significantly higher levels of progress on work goals likely due to the support they received.”

It’s extremely common, perhaps even stereotypical, for the average workspace to preach an attitude of unrelenting positivity. While this may be beneficial from the CEO’s perspective, it just isn’t realistic when applied to real people with real problems and daily tribulations. That’s why, the research team have concluded, employees will actually feel better, work harder, and connect more with their peers if they don’t hide their feelings with a fake smile.

Over 2,500 working adults, from a variety of industries such as finance or engineering, took part in this research via surveys. The questionnaires measured two distinct types of on-the-job emotional regulation; surface acting and deep acting.

Surface acting means faking happiness while interacting with other employees, and deep acting refers to actively trying to change one’s emotions and feelings in order to be more pleasant at work. The study’s authors were interested to see how common it is for working adults to regulate their emotions while on the clock, and if so, why? What benefits are employees gaining from such behavior?

After analyzing all of the survey responses, researchers identified four distinct types of individuals who disguise or regulate their emotions around co-workers. Non-actors rarely hide their true feelings, and if they do, only to a very small extent. Low actors usually take part in only slight deep and surface acting. Deep actors perform lots of deep acting and low levels of surface acting, and regulators exhibit high levels of both surface and deep acting.

Proportionally, non-actors were by far the smallest identified group in the study.

Regulators, or employees who tend to hide their true feelings most often, are usually motivated by feelings of self-interest. These people believe that by hiding their feelings they will gain access to additional work resources, and look good in front of their managers and co-workers. Deep actors, on the other hand, are usually more motivated by “pro-social” factors. This means they choose to hide their emotions because they believe it fosters a healthier working environment.

Regulators are the most likely of the four to experience great emotional fatigue and exhaustion. Meanwhile, deep actors tend to achieve improved well-being most frequently.

The study is published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.