Testing a eustress/distress model of service with a smile

Quinones, Cristina and Rodriguez-Carvajal, Raquel (2015). Testing a eustress/distress model of service with a smile. In: Work, Stress, and Health: Sustainable Work, Sustainable Health, Sustainable Organizations, 6-9 May 2015, Atlanta, Georgia.


Statement of the problem: Organizations can affect service quality and customer satisfaction through the emotional displays of front-line employees. Thus, employees’ positive emotions during service transactions can improve customers’ mood and their satisfaction with the service (Groth et al., 2009). Since employees may not naturally feel in tune with the emotions they ought to express, they often engage in a process of regulating their emotional responses to fulfill display rules of the role. This emotion regulation (ER) process driven by role requirements has been referred to as “Emotional Labor” and often labeled as “service with a smile” (e.g. Grandey, Fisk & Steiner, 2005). The literature has accumulated extensive evidence about the negative consequences of faking the emotions required by the role in terms of its associations with burnout (e.g. Martínez-Iñigo et al., 2007). Importantly, the excessive emphasis on these distress aspects has limited our understanding about the potential gains for employee well-being. The deep acting ER strategy seems to be associated with a more positive nomological network than suppressing emotions in customer interactions (Hülsheger & Schewe, 2011). However, inconsistencies in and problems with one of the mainstream instruments of deep acting (Bono & Vey, 2005; Judge et al. ,2009), calls for a re-examination of the construct’s operationalization and a clarification of its consequences. Building on eustress literature and emotion regulation theory we developed and tested an eustress/distress model of “service with a smile.” We also cross-validated the model across two national groups (the UK and Spain) with different tolerance levels for rule-governed behavior in order to address the limited cross-national research in the field.
Procedures: We used a cross-sectional and cross-national design. Employees working in theme parks were selected owing to the salience of rules for positive emotions this context requires. Since we wanted to cross-validate the model across countries with different emotional cultures, homogeneity in all other aspects was sought. Theme park clusters belonged to equivalent chains in each country. A total of 208 employees from Spain and 204 from UK participated in the study. The British participants’ ages ranged from 18 to 72, with an average of 29 years old; 36.2% of the sample were male and 63.8% were female. In the Spanish sample, 52.4% of the sample was male and 47.6% were female. The minimum age was 17 and the maximum 61, with an average of nearly 30 years old. Previously validated measures of the variables of study were used. These included the ERQ (Gross & John, 2003); Perception of customer interactions scale (Brotheridge & Lee, 2002 plus some items created for this study); Commitment (Moreno et al., 2012); Exhaustion and Efficacy sub-scales of MBI (Schaufeli et al., 1996); Turnover Intentions (Moreno et al., 2012).
Analyses: We used Multigroup Confirmatory Factor Analysis (MGCFA) techniques to test measurement invariance of the instruments, and subsequently we also tested the hypothesized relationships with MGCFA.
Results: Cognitive reappraisal was related to perception of thriving customer interactions, which elicited the eustress response (i.e. increased efficacy and commitment). Importantly, this route was independent of the distress route associated with suppressing emotions (i.e. perceived draining interactions, exhaustion and turnover intentions). The hypothesized relationships were confirmed in both countries, thus no differences in the process were detected. However, the impulsive-oriented country (Spain) reported significantly lower levels of perception of draining interactions, exhaustion and turnover intentions than the institutionally oriented country (UK). This expands previous findings where another impulsive-oriented country reported similar scores (Grandey et al., 2005)
Practical Implications: In line with the resource development route findings, we recommend that employees receive training and support to re-interpret costumer demands in less harming ways; some examples are discussed in this paper. Furthermore, the need to attend to cultural values in the selection of employees is also discussed. Conclusions: This is one of the first studies to apply a positive psychology perspective in the examination of the “service with a smile" phenomenon through the eustress route component of classic stress theory. This framework allowed us to test the eustress and distress routes simultaneously and to explore the relationships between them. The cross-validation of the model with members of the Anglo-Saxon and Latin-European cluster is also an innovative element.

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