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Why being happy at work could kill you… (maybe)

I caught an interesting news story on the radio last week (or it may have been the week before!) about how faking happiness at work could make you ill. After a quick google I came across a news story that detailed the study that was carried out:

Being forced to appear happy at work seems to cause health problems ranging from depression to cardiovascular conditions, ongoing research in Germany has shown…[]

Professor Zapf said, “We call this kind of faked emotion “emotional dissonance.” We found that the amount of time actually spent with customers was irrelevant when measuring stress compared to the amount of time workers had to demonstrate emotional dissonance.”… []

The professor said that the study found that although most people can handle short bursts of “faking it,” a continuous need to appear happy had negative effects on health.

The study was centred mainly around people working in services industries (airline check-in staff, waiting staff, call centre workers etc.) but I think it applies equally to anyone – and not just those who deal with the general public.

I’m sure we’ve all been there; Sat in a meeting whilst someone completely trashes the project you’ve been working on and all you can do is sit there and smile as it’s seen bad form to do otherwise. Meanwhile, inwardly your blood starts to boil, adrenaline starts rushing, your heart beats faster and your stress level soars. Hello heart attack, here I come!

It’s a difficult situation to be in, one the one hand you may feel you have the right to confront the annoying customer in front of you who’s complaining they haven’t enough onion in their burger; on the other hand if you do that you’ll get fired. It’s a Catch 22 situation.

Employers and managers need to realise that their staff can’t maintain this level of false happiness and that pretty soon something’s going to give. Sickness rates will increase, as will staff turnover and the cost to the company alone should be enough to spur management into action.

What’s the solution?

That’s a tough one – there’s no magic wand that can be waved here, each employee will be different. Having a clear chain of command so that an employee has the power (an opportunity) of referring irritating customers to someone else (otherwise known as passing the buck!) will help as will training in confrontation and stress management but sometimes even that may not be enough.

If you have a problem client that is continually causing issues for your staff, seriously think about whether you want them as a customer. Are they worth the hassle in the long run? Will any profit be made or is it being swallowed up by having to manage their petty gripes? Will having them as a customer be a benifit that outweighs the losses due to employee absenteeism (either through sick days or skiving)?

I think if you answer “no” to any of these then it may be time to sack the customer, not the employee…

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