If you fake being nice at work, your career will go nowhere: Study

Why faking ‘being nice’ can actually put us at a disadvantage, and researchers say long term can undermine your efforts to improve your health and relationships.



Faking a positive attitude and overly concerning yourself with good impressions is most likely hurting your career, not furthering it, according to new research.

“Surface actors”, those who follow the mantra “fake it till you make it” when it comes to regulating emotions at work, may be inflicting psychological strain on themselves. On the contrary, “deep actors”, those looking to form genuine relationships with those they work with, tend to build trust easier and reap the rewards of their authenticity.

Allison Gabriel of the University of Arizona and colleagues focused their research on the outcome of ‘emotional labour’ – which they claim is “the process through which employees enact emotion regulation (i.e., surface and deep acting) to alter their emotional displays”.

They identified a variety of nuanced drivers of emotion regulation in the workplace but found two umbrella categories upon which all others fall under: prosocial emotion regulation and impression management.


Gabriel and her team identified four distinct emotion regulation profiles common among co-workers


A genuine desire to form positive relationships and to be a good colleague was typically the main driving force behind prosocial behaviour, they found.

On the contrary, the standard motivation for regulating emotions as impression management was more Machiavellian and strategic; looking good in front of those who matter and getting to the top through access to resources.

Gabriel and her team identified four distinct emotion regulation profiles common among co-workers:

  1. Deep actors – colleagues who exude the highest levels of deep acting and lower levels of surface acting.
  2. Surface actors – those who displayed lower deep acting but higher surface acting.
  3. Nonactors – co-workers who engage in a negligible amount of both levels of acting.
  4. Regulators – workers who exhibit high levels of both surface and deep acting.

Their study found that nonfactors were the least common of the four groups and that most workplaces had an equal number of deep actors, surface actors, and regulators.

The primary takeaway from the research was that deep actors yield the greatest social capital gains. Deep actors try and align how they feel with how they interact with others and are in turn able to build higher levels of trust, garnering them more support from co-workers than those who fit into any of the other categories. Deep actors, who are positive with their co-workers for prosocial reasons, received advice more willingly from co-workers as well as a helping hand when the workload got tough.

Comparatively, regulators were found to be the worst off as a result of their actions. “Regulators suffered the most on our markers of well-being, including increased levels of feeling emotionally exhausted and inauthentic at work,” Gabriel said. “Maybe plastering on a smile to simply get out of an interaction is easier in the short run, but long term, it will undermine efforts to improve your health and the relationships you have at work.” 





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