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Neutral Disposition at Work May Take Toll

Neutral Disposition at Work May Take TollNew research suggests employees who must appear dispassionate at work expend energy maintaining the stoic demeanor. As a result, the individual may have less energy to devote to work tasks and may receive less than positive appraisals from others.

The researchers found that workers who must avoid appearing either overly positive or negative — such as journalists, health care professionals, social workers, lawyers and law enforcement officers — suppress expressions of emotion more than workers in other service-oriented professions.

“Our study shows that emotion suppression takes a toll on people,” said Dr. Daniel Beal, assistant professor of psychology at Rice University and co-author of the study.

“It takes energy to suppress emotions, so it’s not surprising that workers who must remain neutral are often more rundown 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.”

Beal and his co-authors, John Trougakos, Ph.D.,  of the University of Toronto and Christine Jackson, Ph.D., of Purdue University, found that employees will generally engage in higher levels of suppression in an attempt to adhere to the neutral display requirement to meet the expectations of their managers or the public.

Another consequence that the researchers noticed was that customers who interacted with a neutrally expressive employee were in less-positive moods and, in turn, gave lower ratings of service quality and held less-positive attitudes toward that employee’s organization.

The findings suggest that even though neutrality in such jobs is required for a number of reasons — to maintain trust, to keep a situation calm, to not influence the actions of others — it may not result in a particularly positive reaction from others.

“When an employee is positive, it transfers to the client or customer they’re working with,” Beal said.

“Because of that good mood, the client or customer then would rate the organization better. But if an employee is maintaining a neutral demeanor, you don’t have those good feelings transferred. If an organization’s goal is to be unbiased, then that may trump any desire the organization has to be well-liked.”

For the study, the researchers trained participants to perform as poll workers in two different conditions. In one condition, the training emphasized being positive to provide a good impression of the organization sponsoring the survey.

In the second condition, the training emphasized being neutral so as not to bias the responses of survey respondents. Results supported the idea that neutral displays require greater emotion suppression and this greater suppression led to less persistence at the surveying task and greater avoidance of potential survey respondents.

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

The study will be published in the forthcoming issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Source: Rice University

Neutral Disposition at Work May Take Toll

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Neutral Disposition at Work May Take Toll. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 23, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2011/01/12/neutral-disposition-at-work-may-take-toll/22574.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
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