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J Occup Health Psychol. 2007 Jul;12(3):301-18.

Display rules versus display autonomy: emotion regulation, emotional exhaustion, and task performance in a call center simulation.

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  • 1Personnel Decisions International, Inc., USA.


"Service with a smile" is satisfying for the customer, but such display rules may be costly to the employee and the organization. Most previous research on such costs has used self-reported and cross-sectional designs. The authors use an experimental approach to test tenets of resource depletion theories; specifically, whether the self-regulation of emotions required by display rules depletes energy and attentional resources during a service encounter. Using a call center simulation with three "customer" interactions, the authors found that participants given positive display rules (e.g., be enthusiastic and hide frustration) reported more postsimulation exhaustion and made more errors on the order form compared to those with display autonomy. Customer hostility during one of the calls also increased exhaustion overall and the number of errors during that specific call, though proposed interactions with display rules were not supported. Surface-level emotion regulation, but not deep-level, was the mechanism for the energy depletion effect of display rules, while display rules had a direct effect on performance decrements. Theoretical and practical implications for display rules as part of job requirements are discussed.

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