Could Being Forced To Appear Happy At Work Lead To Heavy Drinking?

By Beth Leipholtz 04/23/19
A new study examined the drinking habits of individuals who regularly interact with the public.
cashier being forced to appear happy at work

If you feel forced to put on a happy face at work, you may be more likely to drink heavily after a shift, new research has concluded. 

Researchers at Penn State and the University at Buffalo examined the drinking habits of individuals who work often with members of the public, PennState News reports. This included professions such as those in the food service industry, nurses and teachers. 

In doing so, the researchers found that individuals who often had to play up positive emotions, such as smiling, or push aside negative feelings were more likely to take part in heavier drinking after work. 

Alicia Grandey, professor of psychology at Penn State, tells PennState News that these results may mean employers in such industries may want to reassess the manner in which they ask employees to act. 

Grandey adds that the exact reason for the connection is unknown, but she thinks that by keeping emotions in check and putting on a positive face for customers, individuals may be using large amounts of self-control that they later let go of when drinking.

"Smiling as part of your job sounds like a really positive thing, but doing it all day can be draining," Grandey said. "In these jobs, there's also often money tied to showing positive emotions and holding back negative feelings. Money gives you a motivation to override your natural tendencies, but doing it all day can be wearing."

In conducting the study, the researchers examined data from the National Survey of Work Stress and Health, specifically from phone interviews with 1,592 employees in the U.S. The data they studied had to do with how often employees took part in “surface acting,” meaning they faked or suppressed emotions, as well as how often and how much they drank after work. 

Additionally, researchers took into account the amount of autonomy individuals felt they had at work, as well as how impulsive they were.  

Researchers concluded that employees who worked with the public tended to drink more after work than those who did not interact with the public.

"The relationship between surface acting and drinking after work was stronger for people who are impulsive or who lack personal control over behavior at work," Grandey said. "If you're impulsive or constantly told how to do your job, it may be harder to rein in your emotions all day, and when you get home, you don't have that self-control to stop after one drink."

Grandey also notes that for those who consider their work to be rewarding, surface acting may not be as problematic. 

"Nurses, for example, may amplify or fake their emotions for clear reasons," Grandey said. "They're trying to comfort a patient or build a strong relationship. But someone who is faking emotions for a customer they may never see again, that may not be as rewarding, and may ultimately be more draining or demanding."

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.