Emotional labor threatens decent work: A proposal to eradicate emotional display rules

Alicia A. Grandey, Deborah Rupp, William N. Brice

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

93 Scopus citations


Emotional labor-the management of emotional displays as part of one's work role-has emerged as a growth area of study within organizational behavior and customer service research. In this article, we call attention to the human costs of "service with a smile" requirements with little benefits. We first review the evidence showing that requiring positive emotions from employees induces dissonance and depleted resources, which hinders task performance and threatens well-being. We articulate how formalized emotion display requirements limit self-determination by threatening the autonomy, competence, and belongingness needs of employees. Further, via an organizational justice lens, we argue that emotional labor is an unfair labor practice because employees in such circumstances are (1) undervalued by the organization (constituting distributive injustice); (2) disrespected by customers (constituting interactional injustice); and (3) self-undermined by organizational policies (constituting procedural injustice). We then argue for bringing light to the dark side of emotional labor with a "modest proposal": Organizations and customers should abandon formalized emotion display expectations and replace such efforts with more humanistic practices that support and value employees, engendering positive climates and an authentically positive workforce.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)770-785
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Organizational Behavior
Issue number6
StatePublished - Aug 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Applied Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Psychology(all)
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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