Kansas State University


K-State Business Insights Newsletter

Are your employees fully engaged?

A recent study from Edward Nowlin, marketing professor at Kansas State University looks at what influences employees’ job engagement, and how managers can best increase job engagement in their employees.

Research By: Edward Nowlin, assistant professor of marketing

A 2013 Gallup poll survey finds that on average 70 percent of all of the United State’s work force, and 72 percent of service workers, are not engaged or are actively disengaged in their work. Employee disengagement costs US firms an estimated $450-550 billion each year in lost productivity. Service worker engagement levels dropped from 32% in 2009 to 29% in 2012. In addition, 43 percent of front-line service employees admit to being mentally disengaged from their customer service responsibilities on a daily basis.

Nowlin, along with his colleagues Nwamaka Anaza (Southern Illinois University) and Gavin Wu (Savannah State University) examined what influences employees’ job engagement in a recent study published in the European Journal of Marketing. The study, entitled “Staying engaged on the job: The role of emotional labor, job resources, and customer orientation,” investigates whether addressing the emotional needs of front-line service workers will increase their job engagement and focus on customer service.

Using data gathered from service providers from the restaurant industry, the results suggest that surface acting, or using facial and bodily expressions that don’t coincide with actual internal sentiment, undermines front-line employee customer focus. Meaning, faking the appropriate professional emotional expressions does not translate into enhanced professional behavior, such as an improved customer focus. Rather, the effort of surface acting creates a dissonance or internal conflict between the emotion portrayed and the emotion felt, which actually decreases the effectiveness of their professional behavior – their customer focus. Because surface acting decreases customer focus, it also indirectly decreases employee job engagement.

On the other hand, deep acting or making an effort to change emotions so that internal feelings match their external expresses, actually increases service providers’ customer focus as well as employee job engagement. The findings suggest that when service providers make efforts to actually feel the emotions that they are expressing, they do not feel the internal conflict, and customer focus increases.

The study’s findings also suggest that having other emotional resources, like having a mentor and coworkers that employees can vent to, provides service workers the emotional support they need and their customer service efforts will increase which in turn increases their job engagement.

What should managers do to increase job engagement in their employees?

Managers should encourage employees to make an effort to feel the emotions that they need to display for the job.

  • Matching internal emotions with required external emotional displays (being professional, courteous, and positive) will actually increase the employees’ customer focus and job engagement.

Managers should never tell employees to ‘act like you’re happy and attentive even if you’re not.’

  • Forcing employees to fake professionalism or happiness or some other emotion that they are not feeling will actually make their job engagement and service performance worse.

Managers should provide emotional support directly by mentoring service employees.

  • Service workers who have a mentor have higher levels of job engagement and customer focus than those who do not.

Managers should encourage and foster an environment in which employees provide emotional support for each other.

  • Peer emotional support provides an opportunity for service employees to blow off steam from dealing with an extremely difficult customer as well as to learn how to handle customer demands more effectively in general.
One thought on “Are your employees fully engaged?
  1. Awesome article! I went from a KSU Marketing and MIS focus B.S. degree into sales. In 2002..into dental school (crazy path, right?!?), graduating as a DDS in 2012. While I was taking my pre-req’s to go to dental school, I worked in service (’06-’08) as a waitress at Jack Stack in KC. So I understand the study of the service industry!

    In my dental practice (solo owned, small biz) I am 4.5 years in, and I would agree with these finding wholeheartedly. Even more so; in a relationship-building, repeat industry like dentistry. (You’ll be back for your six-month cleaning, but at the restaurant; unless you request that person, you may not get the same experience). When establishing a new patient/customer; that fake care is felt, especially by those in a vulnerable position like healthcare. And front-facing employees (in my case; front desk, assistants, hygienists; who ALL see a patient/customer before me, the doctor and business owner, make an impression before I can ever prove my skill as their dental care giver.

    Everyone has to on board: understand the company mission and goals (in my case, for care), and be authentic in their desire.

    Faking it doesn’t get you far! Great article!!

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