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Authentic behavior at work leads to greater productivity

February 16, 2020

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Authentic behavior at work leads to greater productivity

Matching behavior with the way you feel—in other words, not faking it—is more productive at work and leads to other benefits, according to a new study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

What the researchers say: “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,” said the lead author. “These people also reported significantly higher levels of progress on work goals likely due to the support they received.”

From surveys of more than 2,500 working adults in a variety of industries, the researchers analyzed two types of emotion regulation people use at work: surface acting and deep acting. Surface acting involves faking positive emotions when interacting with others in the work environment. One might be frustrated or angry on the inside, but the external appearance disguises those feelings. Deep acting involves trying to change how one feels internally. With deep acting, individuals try to feel more positively in order to be more pleasant when interacting with others.

The researchers wanted to know if people regulated their emotions when interacting with co-workers, and, if so, why they chose to do this if there were no formal rules requiring them to do so. And then, what benefits, if any, did they receive from this effort?

The researchers identified four types of people who regulate their emotions with co-workers. Non-actors engage in negligible levels of surface and deep acting, low actors display slightly higher surface and deep acting, deep actors exhibit the highest levels of deep acting and low levels of surface acting, and regulators display high levels of surface and deep acting.

Non-actors were the smallest group in each study, and the other three groups were similar in size.

Regulators were driven by “impression management,” which the researchers defined as strategic motives that include gaining access to resources or looking good in front of colleagues and supervisors. Deep actors were much more likely to be motivated by “prosocial” concerns, meaning they chose to regulate their emotions with co-workers to foster positive work relationships and be courteous.

Regulators—those who mixed high levels of surface and deep acting—experienced emotional exhaustion and fatigue, the researchers found, whereas deep actors—those who relied largely on deep acting—had improved well-being.

So, what? Previous research reported in TR shows that emotional exhaustion is due to the depletion of the reward neurochemical glutamate. These people are more likely to be either non-actors or aggressive/depressive at home, or back at the office if they have been with clients whom they have to be nice to. Especially before meals.

This study also illustrates a fundamental aspect of human nature and that is that we are relationship forming animals one of whose prime needs is to be surrounded by supportive people.

Most of our actions are geared towards deepening or increasing those supportive relationships. This probably always involves a degree of “acting.”

All of the categories of “actors” that they list—everyone but the “non-actors”—are behaving in ways that they think will bring them the maximum amount of acceptance and trust. In other words, “acting” in the sense that the researchers use the term, is normal.

The non-actors are those who are either too lacking in glutamate, too depressed or too disengaged to believe that they can be supported in the work environment  or have personality disorders which psychologists use to lump under the heading of as “splitting”—they are unwilling or unable to engage in or sustain  mutually supportive relationships.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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