Emotional separation from the morality of the self: Emotional labor as an antecedent of dishonesty
McCauley, Kelly D.
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Using an experimental design, the current study tested a conceptual model explaining the differential effects of integrative and differentiating emotional display rules on emotional labor, felt authenticity, acts of dishonesty, and perceptions of others’ dishonesty. Emotional labor involves a continual process by which employees compare their emotional displays to emotional display rules. When a discrepancy between emotional display rules and the employee’s felt emotions is identified, employees use emotional regulation strategies—surface acting, deep acting, and genuine emotions—to match their emotional displays with emotional display rules. Depending on the individual’s emotional regulation strategy, I argue that individuals feel less true to themselves, or less authentic (particularly when engaging in surface acting and to a lesser extent deep acting). Drawing from resource depletion and self-concept maintenance theories, I suggest that emotional labor drains needed resources for additional self-regulation processes. When this happens, I hold that emotional labor will have a direct effect on unethical behavior. Additionally, I advance that when individuals feel inauthentic as a result of their emotional regulation, they are less attentive to their personal moral standards, making them more likely to be dishonest and to perceive others as dishonest. Participants in this study were 275 students recruited from a research subject pool at a large public university in the southwestern United States. The theoretical model was tested using an experimental research design with two treatment conditions—integrative display rules and differentiating display rules. The manipulations were two different role-plays. For the integrative display rule condition, participants were assigned to show positive emotions while acting as a campus tour guide. In the differentiating display rule condition, participants were asked to show negative emotions such as anger and irritation as part of their role as a rental agent reminding residents to pay their bills. Participants completed measures regarding their emotional labor and felt authenticity after their role-play. Then, they were given two problem-solving tasks designed to measure the extent to which participants exhibited dishonesty by falsely reporting their performance on the task. Finally, participants answered questions regarding their perceptions of others’ dishonesty. The theoretical model was tested using MANCOVA and regression analyses. Mixed support was found for the proposed conceptual model. The relationships between emotional display rules, emotional labor, and authenticity were mostly supported. Thus, when participants were assigned to the integrating display rule condition, they tended to show genuine emotions and as a result, felt more authentic. However, when participants were assigned to the differentiating emotional display rule condition, they were more likely to engage in surface acting, and therefore felt less authentic. Participants’ level of deep acting did not differ across the display rule conditions, but when they engaged in deep acting, they felt less authentic. The hypotheses regarding emotional labor as an antecedent of dishonesty (either directly or indirectly as mediated by felt authenticity) were not supported. This study has implications for organizations since many organizations provide strong emotional display rules, resulting in employees using emotional labor to meet the work demands. The findings in this study suggest that creating opportunities for employees to display genuine emotions in organizational settings may deter employees’ emotional separation from their true selves, thereby reducing felt inauthenticity and possibly dishonesty stemming from organizational pressures to be someone they are not. While the emotional labor-dishonesty relationship was not supported in this study, this research takes an initial step toward understanding this relationship and its potential implications in the organizational setting.