Acute Events and Emotional Dissonance

“Getting Off on the Right Foot: Acute Events and Emotional Dissonance”


Emotional dissonance, a component of emotional labour, is defined as the discrepancy between the emotions employees are required to display as part of their job and those they truly feel. It has been found that the existence of such dissonance can be a stressful aspect of emotion at work and leads to feelings of falseness and in-authenticity. These feelings are tied to such detrimental long term effects as emotional exhaustion and burnout, job dissatisfaction, and depression. One factor found to determine an employee's level of emotional dissonance is acute emotional events. Defined as those events that occur within the context of ones daily work routine that lead to more or less emotional regulation, these events are appraised by the employee for their well-being. An atypical positive experience with a customer may serve to reduce the emotional dissonance of an employee by aligning emotions required with those felt, while a negative experience may serve to do the opposite.

In this paper I suggest that the earlier an acute emotional event occurs within the workday, the larger the effect it will have on the total emotional dissonance experienced throughout that day as it sets the ‘tone' for the day. Assuming the employee chooses to adhere to the organizationally prescribed emotional displays, this change in dissonance has a direct relationship to the level of emotional labour exerted by that employee. However, regardless of the whether the employee displays the organizationally desired emotions, the well-being of the organization as a whole will be affected.


In response to the growth in service sector employment, in which customer satisfaction and repeat patronage depend heavily on the quality of the personal encounter, researchers have shifted their focus much more toward the social dimensions of the work experience (Solomon, Surprenant, Czepiel & Gutman, 1985; Pugliesi, 1999). In particular, emotion and the display of such emotion within the work context has risen to the forefront (Ashforth & Humphrey, 1995). The 1983 book The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling by Arlie Russell Hochschild was a foundational piece within the field of emotion at work as it introduced the notion of emotional labour, defined as “the management of feeling to create a publicly observable facial and bodily display” (Hochschild, 1983: 7). Since then, the definition, components, antecedents and consequences of emotional labour have been explored as the construct has evolved through theoretical and empirical research. In particular, emotional dissonance, defined as the conflict between genuinely felt emotions and emotions required to be displayed in organizations, has taken prominence within the field, however, research has focused primarily on its consequences with less emphasis on what causes emotional dissonance, particularly within the realm of empirical research (Middleton, 1989). Given the vast support for the negative consequences of emotional dissonance, understanding its determinants, with particular attention to the construct's variability, would be the next logical, and crucial, step.

This paper, therefore, delves into the events that determine the level of emotional dissonance experienced with particular attention to what Grandey (2000) alluded to as positive and negative acute emotional events. Defined as those events that occur within the context of ones daily work routine that lead to more or less emotional regulation, these atypical events play a role in determining one's level of emotional dissonance (Grandey, 2000). By analyzing the impact of such events on an employee's level of emotional dissonance one will be able to determine the affect those events have on overall output of “effort” or emotional labour while simultaneously addressing the unrecognized variability of the emotional dissonance construct. I generate propositions to this effect identifying scenarios that will lead to increased or decreased levels of emotional dissonance, and given the negative effects of such dissonance on both the organization (Bailey, 1996; Grandey, 2000) and employees (Ashforth & Humphrey, 1993; Erickson and Wharton, 1997; Hochschild, 1983; Lovelock, 2001), this could prove invaluable.

After reviewing the relevant literature, I analyze the construct of emotional dissonance and its relation to emotional labour and explore the consequences of these concepts. Role theory and social identity theory are then employed in an attempt to speak to the stable aspect of emotional dissonance while acute emotional events are portrayed as an unstable, and therefore influential, aspect of emotional dissonance. In doing so, I seek to contribute to the accrued knowledge regarding the determinants of both emotional dissonance and emotional labour. Implications and future directions conclude the paper.


With the rise in the service sector and service sector employment, emotion in the workplace has become a major concern for employers as the perceived quality of a service is often directly, and sometimes entirely, influenced by the customer's interaction with the service provider (Bowen & Schneider, 1988). Recent work in this area indicates that the display of feeling within the work context has a strong impact on the quality of service transactions as well as the attractiveness of the interpersonal climate (Ashforth & Humphrey, 1993). As a result, organizationally dictated employee emotional displays have become a major part of service work (Morris & Feldman, 1996b). These organizationally dictated emotional displays, labelled display rules, are standards of behaviour that indicate not only which emotions are appropriate in a given situation, but also how those emotions should be conveyed or publicly expressed (Ekman, 1973). These rules can be explicit or implicit dependent upon the two conditions cited by Leidner (1999): how critical the organization judges the interaction and how likely the employees are perceived as being unwilling to follow the display rules. It is important to note that even though the majority of positions within the service sector require positive emotional displays (i.e. flight attendants (Hochschild, 1983), Disney employees (Van Maanen & Kunda, 1989), convenience store clerks (Rafaeli & Sutton, 1988)), some positions require neutrality (physicians (Smith & Kleinman, 1989)) or even negativity (bill collectors (Hochschild, 1983)) (Miller, Considine & Garner, 2007). One key mechanism for teaching display rules, as identified by Rafaeli and Sutton (1987), is through socialization. Walt Disney theme parks, for example, used classes, handbooks, and billboards to convey display rules to employees (Van Maanen & Kunda, 1989). It is important to note that the existence of display rules establishes one of the underlying assumptions within this research: that individuals can and do regulate their emotions in social situations at work (Grandey, 2000).

The recognition of the role emotion plays at work, particularly within the service context, has given rise to what is known as emotional labour. It has been termed ‘labour' since it requires effort and planning to publicly display emotions that one may not necessarily privately feel (James, 1989) and that one is compensated for this labour as part of one's job (Hochschild, 1983). Originally conceptualized by Hochschild, emotional labour has been analyzed, scrutinized and redefined numerous times. Hochschild's definition of emotional labour as “the management of feeling to create a publicly observable facial and bodily display” focused more intently on the feeling of emotion over the display of such emotion (Grandey, 2000). In an attempt to focus more on the observable aspects of emotion, Ashforth and Humphrey (1993) defined emotional labour as “the act of displaying appropriate emotions, with the goal to engage in a form of impression management for the organization” (Grandey, 2000: 96, emphasis added). Morris and Feldman (1996) saw emotional labour as “the effort, planning and control needed to express organizationally desired emotion during interpersonal transactions” (Grandey, 2000: 97). In an attempt to combine the common features of all definitions, Grandey (2000) defined emotional labour as “the process of regulating both feelings and expressions for organizational goals” (97).

With such ambiguity over the basic definition of emotional labour it is not surprising that research on the subject has lacked consensus. Hochschild's original hypothesis stating that emotional labour is inherently harmful to employees has been met with mixed results. Van Maanen and Kunda (1989) argue that suppression of the self can lead to burnout, physical illness and emotional numbness in employees, while Noe's (1995) research on emergency medical technicians showed that emotional labour led to problems in other relationships and Leidner's (1993) research on fast food employees showed the disempowerment of employees leading to feelings of discontent. On the other hand, research on job satisfaction showed no relationship with the level of emotional labour done (Adelmann, 1989), and in some cases, a positive relationship with job satisfaction (Wharton, 1993; Ashforth & Humphrey, 1996). Studies have even shown that in some instances emotional labour can be empowering (Stenross & Kleinman, 1989; Tolich, 1993), status equalizing (Gimlin, 1996) and intrinsically rewarding (Shuler & Sypher, 2000). Even within a single occupation emotional labour can be perceived as being both negative and positive. In a study on police detectives, Stenross and Kleinman (1989) reported detectives as experiencing emotional labour in a positive manner when dealing with criminals as they enjoyed having to portray negative emotions, as well as a negative manner when dealing with victims as it was difficult to sympathize with some of them. This heterogeneity of results speaks to the fact that the emotional labour construct is more complex than originally thought (Abraham, 1998).

In an attempt to arrive at a deeper understanding of the construct one must look at how emotional labour is performed, and how it has been recently conceptualized. The performance of emotional labour is said to be conducted in one of two ways. Employees can either take part in deep acting, in which one consciously modifies feelings in order to express the desired emotion, or surface acting, in which one regulates emotional expressions (Hochschild, 1983). Deep acting can be thought of as either changing how you perceive the situation, or changing your mood by recalling more congruent emotional experiences or thoughts (Gross, 1998). Flight attendants, for example, are told to envision disruptive passengers as children (change situation perception), while a waitress whistled opera in a coffee house because this made her feel more positive (change mood by recalling congruent thoughts) (Grandey, 2000; Hochschild, 1983). Surface acting, on the other hand, involves ‘faking' or altering emotional expression while maintaining one's internal feelings. This definition leads us into the construct of emotional dissonance, defined as the conflict between genuinely felt emotions and emotions required to be displayed in organizations (Middleton, 1989). Emotional labour has recently been reconceptualised to include emotional dissonance, along with frequency, attentiveness (intensity and duration of interaction), and variety of emotions required in an attempt to better understand and predict employee and organizational effects (Morris & Feldman, 1996b). Intensity and duration are said to be positively related as the longer the interaction gets, the less scripted it becomes and the harder it becomes to hide one's true feelings (Hochschild, 1983; Jones, 1989). Along these same lines, Cordes and Dougherty (1993) made the connection between longer interactions with clients, increased emotional labour and higher levels of burnout. Since this re-conceptualization, research within this field has focused on the construct of emotional dissonance. Based on Rafaeli and Sutton's (1987) suggestion that “to better understand the consequences of emotional labour we need to focus on specific situations where there are conflicts between required emotional expression and employees' “true” feelings”, this topic deserves more elaboration (Morris & Feldman, 1996: 20).


It has been said that emotional labour is being performed when rules for emotional management are dictated by one's job, and when the central aspect of that job is to manage one's emotions (Shuler & Sypher, 2000). It is interesting to note, however, that unlike Hochschild's idea that emotional labour is inherently harmful to employees as emotional misalignment always exists, one need not be misaligned with such emotions. Consistent with the interactionist model of emotion, it has been argued that it is possible to truly feel the emotions prescribed by the organization, and by doing so one exerts less labour (Rafaeli & Sutton, 1987; Morris & Feldman, 1996b). It is important to mention that labour is still exerted, but only as a way of displaying these felt emotions in appropriate ways (Morris & Feldman, 1996b). This emotional congruence, or lack of emotional dissonance, could be seen as the source of the mixed research results attributed to emotional labour. For example, Morris and Feldman (1997) hypothesized that the greater the frequency of emotional labour and the longer the duration of emotional labour, the greater the emotional exhaustion. They also hypothesized that the greater the emotional dissonance, the greater the emotional exhaustion and the lower job satisfaction. Only the hypotheses regarding emotional dissonance were supported (Abraham, 1999; Morris & Feldman, 1997). This leads one to believe that the negative consequences of displaying emotions can be linked to emotional labour through emotional dissonance. However this dissonance or incongruence in emotion that requires “contact personnel to hide their true feelings and present a front or face to the customer” has also been subject to some confusion (Hoffman & Bateson, 2002: 252). Emotional dissonance has been seen as both an antecedent and a consequence of emotional labour (Adelmann, 1989; Van Dijk & Brown, 2006). For this analysis and study of emotional dissonance, emotional labour shall consist of emotional dissonance and therefore be tied to emotional dissonance in a manner consistent with the recent research of Morris and Feldman (1996b, 1997) as well as Abraham (1998, 1999).

Negative Consequences of Emotional Labour

Regardless of any confusion surrounding how emotional dissonance fits with respect to emotional labour, consensus has been reached regarding the negative consequences surrounding the construct. Both Lovelock (2001) along with Zapf and Holz (2006) note that emotional dissonance can be a stressful aspect of emotion at work. The apparent emotional disconnect leads to feelings of falseness and in-authenticity (Ashforth & Humphrey, 1993) which have long-term effects such as emotional exhaustion and burnout (Abraham, 1999; Erickson & Ritter, 2001; Hochschild, 1983; Maslach, 1982; Morris and Feldman, 1997), job dissatisfaction (Morris and Feldman, 1997) and depression (Erickson & Wharton, 1997). In particular, emotional exhaustion should be expected given the basic argument made by Rafaeli and Sutton (1987) that emotional dissonance is a form of role conflict which is an antecedent of emotional exhaustion. Role conflict is an aspect of role theory in which a clash exists between personal values and role requirements (Rafaeli & Sutton, 1987). It has been mentioned that role conflict exists when employees address emotional dissonance through what is known as ‘faking in bad faith' as opposed to ‘faking in good faith' (Abraham, 1998). Faking in bad faith occurs when employees reject the norms of prescribed behaviour and display organizationally desired emotions they feel should not be part of their job, like smiling when they feel that smiling should not be required of them (Abraham, 1998; Rafaeli & Sutton, 1987). Faking in good faith occurs when employees accept the norms of prescribed behaviour even though they do not align with their own true beliefs, like smiling even when they are sad because they accept that they should smile (Abraham, 1998; Rafaeli & Sutton, 1987). Both types of ‘faking' have been associated with negative outcomes however faking in bad faith appears to generate more role conflict (Abraham, 1998). In a meta-analysis of role conflict Jackson and Schuler (1985) report that role conflict is positively related to measures of tension and anxiety and negatively related to measures of job satisfaction (Morris & Feldman, 1996b). Keeping in line with role theory, social identity theory follows much the same logic as it suggests that individuals who identify with a social group that does not have display rules congruent to their role within an organization are more apt to experience emotional dissonance (Ashforth & Humphrey, 1993). Social identity theory as it relates to the current discussion follows below.

Emotional Dissonance: Determinants

It is apparent that social identity theory and role theory may go a long way to explain the level of emotional dissonance experienced by an employee. This level of dissonance is determined by two main factors. Consistent with both theories, an employee is bound to feel a certain level of emotional dissonance at any one time. This dissonance can be attributed to one of the two factors. The first factor is the underlying premise of social identity theory known as social identification (Ashforth & Humphrey, 1993). Social identification is the perception of belonging to a group classification in which individuals begin to identify with a given group (i.e. I am a boy scout, I am a Rotarian), and as a result, become somewhat aligned with that group with respect to values, goals and beliefs (Ashforth & Humphrey, 1993). In the context of employment, the level of identification with one's role and co-workers will determine a ‘base' level of emotional congruence or alignment with respect to the organization's display rules. It has already been mentioned previously that individuals who identify with a social group that does not have display rules congruent to their position within an organization are more apt to experience emotional dissonance as they are less role congruent with respect to their feelings (Ashforth & Humphrey, 2003). Role conflict supports the conclusions made by social identification as it follows similar logic. The level of conflict one feels with respect to their job (linked to items such as job autonomy and personal affect) will help determine an employee's level of emotional dissonance (Abraham, 1998).

The second workplace factor determining an employee's level of emotional dissonance is what is known as acute emotional events (Grandey, 2000). These are defined as those events that occur within the context of ones daily work routine that lead to more or less emotional regulation. If the event interferes with the employees' goals (the expression of positive emotion for example) the event is appraised negatively. The opposite is also true. These events contribute to either aligning or misaligning feelings with display rules (Grandey, 2000). For example, if one were required to display positive emotions during service transactions as part of one's job and an acute emotional event took place in which a customer was rude and insulting, interfering with the employee's goal of displaying positive emotions, this event could be said to have increased the amount of emotional dissonance the employee feels[1]. Again, the opposite would be true for an emotional event that aligned the employee's feelings with the required display rules. It then follows that:

Proposition 1a: Any positive acute emotional event experienced as part of a customer interaction at work will lower an employee's level of emotional dissonance by aligning an employee's actual feelings with organizational display rules.

Proposition 1b: Any negative acute emotional event experienced as part of a customer interaction at work will raise an employee's level of emotional dissonance by misaligning an employee's actual feelings with organizational display rules.

In this paper, I refer to the alignment of feeling as a form of emotional congruence and the misalignment of feeling as emotional dissonance. At any one time an employee's level of workplace emotional dissonance will be the result of a combination of their social identification / role conflict dissonance and the dissonance attributed to acute emotional events. This dissonance, determined by the social identification with one's job and acute emotional events, dictates the level of effort required for one to meet the required display rules of that job (Morris & Feldman, 1996). The level of explicitness of these display rules also plays a role in determining the necessary effort or ‘labour' required as explicitness has been assumed to correlate positively with effort (Morris & Feldman, 1996). Nevertheless, based on the notion that one's job is nothing more than a role that one fulfills by following a ‘script' of socially defined and ritualized behaviours along with the fact that people are given a wage for fulfilling this role, one can assume that when facing emotional dissonance an employee will make the effort to display the organizationally desired behaviour (Solomon et al., 1985; Hochschild, 1983). With this in mind, and under the assumption that emotional dissonance is directly related to emotional labour in the manner previously discussed, I also suggest the following:

Proposition 2a: A positive acute emotional event will lower the amount of emotional labour required by an employee to meet organizationally prescribed display rules.

Proposition 2b: A negative acute emotional event will raise the amount of emotional labour required by an employee to meet organizationally prescribed display rules.

Variability and Acute Emotional Events

The two factors that determine the level of workplace emotional dissonance will vary with respect to one main characteristic: stability. One could say that the social identification one feels with their job is relatively stable in that the level of identification a person has, once that level is established, does not fluctuate quickly. In contrast, a study conducted by Bailey (1996) showed that employees dealt with “difficult” customers once or twice a day, suggesting that acute emotional events may occur fairly often (Grandey, 2000). Thus, emotional dissonance determined by acute emotional events is likely to be fairly unstable when compared to the emotional dissonance determined by social (job) identification.

As previously mentioned, the effort required to produce the organizationally dictated emotional display is significantly higher when the feelings one has run counter to the required display rules (Tolich, 1993). Keeping this in mind, one can assume that the social identification one has with one's job, which has been established as being fairly stable and predictable when compared to acute emotional events, can be used to predict the effort an employee would have to put forth as a result of the emotional dissonance connected with this identification. On that same note, the instability of acute emotional events makes it somewhat more difficult to predict the effort an employee would have to put forth as a result of the change in emotional dissonance (or congruence) caused by such events. At any given time of the work day the level of emotional dissonance felt by an employee would be equal to the more stable dissonance dictated by social identification with one's job combined with the change in dissonance as a result of acute emotional events. In order to better understand the total level of effort an employee would have to exert as a result of the combined level of emotional dissonance, one would need to know an employee's level of social identification with their position (or role congruence), along with the severity, timing and positive or negative influence of any acute emotional events. Given that social identification is fairly stable and it is a requirement, by definition, of an acute emotional event to meet a certain level of severity, otherwise it would not be an ‘event', let us focus on the timing of such events (Grandey, 2000).

Regardless of when an event takes place within the work day, a certain adjustment in emotional dissonance can occur instantaneously if the event involves a customer transaction (given that a difference between feeling and display in an non-customer event does not necessarily have to exist), and therefore must be addressed within that transaction. However, one could argue that the change in emotional dissonance that occurs as a result of such an event, or even an event that does not occur as part of an employee-customer transaction, carries forward into future transactions, in particular those transactions within the same work day. Emotional contagion, defined as “the tendency to automatically mimic and synchronize facial expressions, vocalizations, postures, and movements with those of another person and, consequently to converge emotionally”, supports this idea as it has been shown that angry outbursts by customers can initiate emotional contagion causing service providers to “catch” consumer anger themselves (Dallimore, Sparks & Butcher, 2007; Hatfield, Cacioppo & Rapson, 1992: 153). In a sense, a person's emotions are translated into mood, which differs from emotion in its duration (being longer) and its categorization as either positive or negative (Jordan, Lawrence & Troth, 2006). If one's job requires them to display positive emotions and they have a positive acute emotional event, they are likely to be more positive after that event than if that event had not occurred which means that their level of emotional dissonance should be lower than if that event had not occurred. This positive feeling, and lower level of emotional dissonance, is likely to resonate throughout the remainder of the day barring any other emotional events. The same argument can also be applied to a scenario in which an acute emotional event increases emotional dissonance as it goes against the organizationally required display rules. Additional acute emotional events that occur throughout the day would then serve to either reinforce the first event or contradict the first event however this discussion is outside the scope of this paper. Having said this and based on the assumption that both Propositions 1a and 1b hold, I suggest the following:

Proposition 3a: The earlier a positive acute emotional event occurs in the work day, ceteris paribus, the less emotional dissonance will be experienced throughout that day.

Proposition 3b: The earlier a negative acute emotional event occurs in the work day, ceteris paribus, the more emotional dissonance will be experienced throughout that day.

With Propositions 3a and 3b reflecting 1a and 1b, Propositions 4a and 4b follow by logical extension (with a similar assumption that Propositions 2a and 2b hold):

Proposition 4a: The earlier a positive acute emotional event occurs in the work day, ceteris paribus, the less effort or emotional ‘labour' required by an employee to meet organizationally prescribed display rules for that day will be.

Proposition 4b: The earlier a negative acute emotional event occurs in the work day, ceteris paribus, the more effort or emotional ‘labour' required by an employee to meet organizationally prescribed display rules for that day will be.

(Refer to appendix for a graphical representation of Propositions 3 and 4)


Emotional displays by service workers when interacting with customers have been recognized by organizations as a key factor in determining customer evaluations of service quality (Pugh, 2001). As a result, establishing a set of display rules, and enforcing those rules through the use of rewards and punishments has become a priority for employers (Rafaeli & Sutton, 1987). A dilemma occurs at this point as organizations balance the good of the company against the well-being of the individual. Customer satisfaction and repeat patronage may be determined solely by the quality of an employee-customer transaction and if a customer leaves with a negative impression from this transaction, all other efforts may be overlooked (Solomon et al., 1985). However, requiring employees to display certain emotions in order to manage customer satisfaction has been shown in some cases to negatively affect employee well-being. Given the importance of customer satisfaction, asking companies' to relinquish control and dismiss certain display rules is beyond reproach. This leaves a company to address the second part of the dilemma; employee well-being. The real issue, however, is that the emotional dissonance that leads to negative consequences such as emotional exhaustion and burnout (Abraham, 1999; Erickson & Ritter, 2001; Hochschild, 1983; Maslach, 1982; Morris & Feldman, 1997), job dissatisfaction (Morris & Feldman, 1997) and depression (Erickson & Wharton, 1997) also affects the organization in a similar fashion (Grandey, 2000). At this time it may be relevant to explore the previous assumption that employees will make the effort to display the organizationally prescribed emotions when faced with emotional dissonance. Employees may chose to go into ‘robot' mode, simply surface acting in a manner that fails to hide the insincerity in the emotions expressed, or the employee may choose to avoid the display rules altogether (Hochschild, 1983). Although these methods of acting minimize the emotional labour actually done by the employee, thereby safeguarding the employee from the negative consequences of such effort, the negative impact rises in the form of bad customer service derived from rudeness or perceived insincerity (Grandey, 2000; Rafaeli & Sutton, 1987).

Assuming that an employee does follow the prescribed display rules when faced with a certain level of emotional dissonance, the effort or emotional labour that an employee expends is related to the amount of emotional dissonance experienced (Morris & Feldman, 1996b). The negative consequences of emotional dissonance felt by the employee, such as emotional exhaustion and burnout (Abraham, 1999; Erickson & Ritter, 2001; Hochschild, 1983; Maslach, 1982; Morris & Feldman, 1997), have been associated with increases in withdrawal behaviour and decreases in productivity which directly affect the well-being of the organization (Cordes & Dougherty, 1993). Now if the employee's emotional display is seen as sincere in the eyes of the customer, the negative consequences of performing these emotional displays, with respect to the organization, are likely to be incurred sometime in the future as the employees' well-being begins to affect their ability to be effective at work. However, if these emotional displays are seen as insincere in the eyes of the customer, the negative consequences of performing these emotional displays, with respect to the organization, are likely to be incurred both immediately, as perceived insincerity may negatively impact customer service (Rafaeli & Sutton, 1987), and in the future (Grandey, 2000). It is apparent that no matter the scenario, emotional dissonance has a negative impact on the organization. The only real significant difference appears to be both the timing and degree of impact those consequences have. Employee emotional exhaustion and burnout are related to increased withdrawal behaviour, decreased productivity (Cordes & Dougherty, 1993), increased turnover, an increased intention to leave, negative work attitudes, decreased performance and increased absenteeism (Brotheridge & Grandey, 2002; Grandey, 2000; Hochschild, 1983), all of which effect the organization in a negative manner. Match these consequences with those that occur when display rules are not followed and service quality is evaluated poorly and it becomes apparent that the organization is destined to feel the negative impact of emotional dissonance.


Having now established the propositions as they relate to the construct of emotional dissonance, it is important to speak to the considerations one must make when attempting to generalize or operationalize them. Speaking to the vast range of contingencies and possibilities is beyond the scope of this paper however there are several important points that must be addressed. The universality of any emotional display proposition is based on the assumption that the culture in which these organizations operate have certain expectations regarding the emotional script or role one must follow (Solomon et al., 1985). It could be possible that organizations operate in an environment where there are no clear expectations of pleasant, neutral or unpleasant emotional expression. Rafaeli and Sutton (1990) in their study of Israeli cashiers made mention of this and how the emotions required of employees within the study met with North American expectations. This assumption is critical to the existence of emotional dissonance, or emotional labour for that matter. With this assumption up held, these propositions appear to generalize fairly well.

With respect to the determinants of emotional dissonance, it must be clear that the dissonance determined by role congruence / social identity and acute emotional events are directly related to the workplace and only “truly” experienced during employee-customer transactions. It is possible that other events could take place prior to work hours that can also influence emotional dissonance. These types of events take into account emotion that has its genesis outside of the workplace (i.e. family issues, lack of sleep) (Miller et al., 2007). From a managerial standpoint the effects of these events are hard, if not impossible to either eliminate or minimize. Also, one may experience an acute emotional event at work outside of the customer transaction (i.e. fight with an employee, computer malfunction) however these events require little or no immediate emotional management as it may be possible to display one's true feelings at the time of the event (Grandey, 2000; Miller et al., 2007). The concern management should have with all of these events is that they play a role in determining employee emotional dissonance levels, however, their exact impact is difficult to both understand and address.

Finally, proposition three fails to address both the result of multiple events on overall dissonance levels and the individual's reaction to acute emotional events with respect to severity. As well, proposition three functions on the assumption that everyday an employee arrives at work with the same or similar expectations about how the day will transpire. It may be possible that expectations of how the day will go will somehow moderate or help dictate the impact of any acute emotional event. If one expects the worst and gets the worse they are likely to be less affected than someone who expects the best and gets the worse.

Future Directions

Due to the negative consequences of emotional dissonance with respect to both the individual and the organization, it is evident that this topic warrants further exploration. This particular paper points to several different avenues of potential research based on the proposed arguments. First, the preceding discussion based the first proposition on the notion that the level of emotional dissonance created by role identification (alignment) is fairly stable. The question remains, “Just how stable is this dissonance level and what individual or organizational factors or experiences influence this stability?” It is conceivable to think that over time the effects of acute emotional events could compound to play a role in altering one's level of role identification (alignment) with their job, particularly if these events are consistently positive or negative. Individual traits such as gender (Hochschild, 1983; Wharton & Erickson, 1993), emotional expressivity (Arvey, Renz & Watson, 1998; King & Emmons, 1990; Rafaeli & Sutton, 1988), emotional intelligence and self-monitoring (Abraham, 1998) have all been thought to influence emotional labour (Grandey, 2000). Combine these traits with organizational factors such as autonomy (Morris & Feldman, 1996b) and supervisor and co-worker support, (Schneider & Bowen, 1985) and it is evident that this avenue for future research is highly diversified.

The second future direction for further research focuses on those emotional events that take place outside of the work context. These events occur outside of the workplace but end up playing a role in determining an employee's level of emotional dissonance. Also, the impact of events that occur at work but are not part of the dyadic employee-customer transaction should be assessed for their impact. These events could have equally important repercussions with respect to both emotional dissonance and emotional labour, making them worthy of future research. It is beyond the scope of this paper to comment further on the exact impact of these events however it is likely that the emotional events that occur as part of an employee-customer transaction will create larger fluctuations in emotional dissonance and emotional labour given the fact that they call for immediate changes in emotional dissonance and labour as well as the homogeneity of these events with future events that call for emotional labour (both involve transactions with customers).

The third future direction for further research looks at the compounding of emotional events and their severity within the work context. What is the effect of several positive or negative effects occurring within a fairly short timeframe? How does one's level of emotional dissonance alter when a positive event is immediately followed by a negative event of similar severity? These questions deserve some inquiry as they play a crucial role in determining emotional dissonance levels given that the majority of people experience multiple work-related emotional events everyday (Bailey, 1996).

A fourth future direction for further research would have to address the frequency of acute emotional events with respect to job type and customer interaction. It is conceivable to think that cashiers may experience less acute emotional events than automobile sales associates. And to that extent, individuals may define an acute emotional event differently depending on their job type. A qualitative analysis of the definition of an acute emotional event along with some measure of their frequency appears warranted and is directly tied to the final avenue for future research which deals with the severity of such events. What level of severity qualifies an experience to be an event? Does this level of severity drastically differ between individuals? Can severity be linked to easily defined personality traits or characteristics? How great an impact does a severe emotional event actually have on one's overall level of emotional dissonance? Does severity create a threshold from which an employee will no longer take part in emotional labour? Insight into the answers to these questions could go help in predicting consequences for both the individual and the organization.


Over the past few decades emotional labour, and emotional dissonance in particular, have garnered significant attention. This difference between feeling and feigning and the adverse consequences it produces have been difficult to ignore, and as a result demand both attention and action from practitioners and researchers alike (Hochschild, 1983). These adverse consequences, whether individual or organizational in nature can be attributed to, as this paper argues, both role / social identification and acute emotional events. Further understanding of these determinants will aid in maximizing the well-being of all stakeholders.


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[1] Acute emotional events can also occur outside the customer-employee transaction at work (ex. Fight with co-worker, computer malfunction) however these events differ from the customer-employee transaction as few, if any, display rules exist regarding the former implying no or little immediate emotional dissonance is created.

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