Poker Faces a Work Requirement?

Does your job require you to maintain a neutral face while working?

It seems that having to maintain a neutral face at work would be a breeze but new research from Rice University, the University of Toronto, and Purdue University suggests otherwise.   It seems that workers with professions that require them to avoid being overly positive or negative such as law enforcement, journalists, social workers, and health care professionals suppress expressions of emotion more so than other service related professions.

Daniel Beal, assistant professor of psychology at Rice University and his co-authors of the study, John Trougakos and Christine Jackson found that employees engage in a higher level of suppression trying to adhere to the neutral facial expression prerequisite.  This is because they are trying to meet the expectations of their bosses or the public.

The study’s findings are interesting to say the least.  They suggest that even though neutrality is required for various reasons (maintain trust, keep situation calm, not influence others actions etc.) it doesn’t necessarily result in a positive reaction from others or in superior work performance.

Past research has focused on jobs that require the suppression of negative emotions such as customer service representatives, but this is the first study to examine the jobs that require a neutral disposition and the consequences in job performance and customer approval of suppressing both negative and positive emotions on the job.

Beal states of the findings that, “Our study shows that emotion suppression takes a toll on people…it takes energy to suppress emotions…workers are often more run down or show greater levels of burnout.  The more energy you spend controlling your emotions, the less energy you have to devote to the task at hand”.

Do you agree?

One response to “Poker Faces a Work Requirement?”

  1. Keith D. says:

    I definitely agree that maintaining a neutral disposition would zap your energy. I work in customer service and I always try to maintain a positive disposition, but rather than faking it, I just try to shift my perception towards the positive around me so that my natural, genuine disposition is a positive one.

    When I’m in a negative disposition sometimes I try to fake being positive but I can feel in my mind and on my face that it’s not coming through that way. Someone would have to be blind or deliberately overlook what I’m conveying to believe that I’m actually happy.

    The thing I’ve noticed about that is that when I’m in a negative mood and trying to hide it, it takes a lot of energy out of me and wears me out a lot quicker, and that I don’t work as well as when I’m actually in a positive disposition. The other side of the coin is that when I’m in a positive disposition genuinely, I carry that around and spread it to my colleagues at work, in turn making them feel at least somewhat happier and more cheerful and they in turn work better too. Having that effect on my colleagues also provides a boost back to me, giving me even more energy and making my work load seem lighter than it sometimes really is.

    So if you were required to maintain a neutral disposition all or most of the time, not only would a negative disposition be draining to you, but you also wouldn’t derive the energy boost you naturally get by conveying a positive disposition to those around you, resulting in your having less positive energy even when you are in a positive mood, and less reserves to fight off a negative disposition when it comes up.

    I question whether requiring a neutral disposition is always the most prudent thing to do, both in terms of results and in terms of the emotional health of the person with that requirement. In some circumstances, clearly it’s the best thing to do, but I think in some cases we might be carrying the requirement a little too far.

    An example of that would be the police officers I’ve encountered in the state I was born in. They always maintained a pretty neutral disposition, but they never came across as friendly or approachable or particularly human. It always felt more like they had the “thin blue line” mentality, or as if they lived in an “us vs. them” world. When I moved to another state, I was almost shocked at the difference between the police officers I’d encounter there. In that state, the only time I ever encountered an officer who felt “neutral” or unapproachable or “not human” was when I encountered them in a professional capacity, like getting a ticket, or filing a police report. If you just bumped into them on duty in public though, they were almost without fail really positive, friendly and open with the public. It was an extremely stark contrast to what I’d become accustomed to, and it was so nice to see the police seeming more like regular people doing a tough job. It also resulted in the citizenry being far more supportive of them, and a lot more willing to go out of their way to help them out when the officers needed it. They were truly great folks and their police work was absolutely top notch! When my home was burglarized in the second state, I had 80% of my stuff back within a week and a half, and both of the perps were in custody. When something similar happened in my home state, I found 3 months after the fact that the police had never even spoken with the probable witnesses I told them were on the property just 5 minutes before the incident took place! That crime was never solved, no one was ever a suspect, no one was ever charged, and none of the lost property was ever recovered. If that were an isolated incident, I wouldn’t think there was more to it, but my experience reflects what many others had experienced from the police in my home state over the years. Likewise my experience in my second state reflects what many others I knew had experienced there. Something was fundamentally different between the two approaches, and I believe the way the officers are encouraged to conduct themselves probably has at least a little to do with it.

    I wish my home state would take lessons from my second state, it would have a huge difference in the crime rate I think.

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