Show them Your Pearlie Whites - Improve Workplace Wellness with a Smile
Most people have heard that more facial muscles are used to frown than to smile — it’s something you might say to someone who seems unhappy to get them to “turn that frown upside down.”
Without a doubt, smiling can have positive effects on the workplace and employee wellness. A smile is a simple way to improve the mood; it’s a universal expression of joy and happiness. Smiling also tends to be contagious —when one person smiles others tend to reciprocate.
Your smile is a messenger of good will. Your smile brightens the lives of all who see it. To someone who has seen a dozen people frown, scowl or turn their faces away, your smile is like the sun breaking through the clouds. Especially when that someone is under pressure from his bosses, his customers, his teachers or parents or children, a smile can help him realize that all is not hopeless — there is joy in the world.
But not all smiles are created equal. It’s not enough to smile, you have to smile and mean it.
Smiling for the Sake of Smiling
In many industries, especially where there is front-line contact with the public, employees are expected to smile. This is just good customer service practice and is nothing new. In fact, the origin of the “smiley face” was the result of the work of Harvey Ball, who designed the simple logo for a button to help employees at State Mutual remember to smile whenever they answered the phone, paid a claim or typed a report as part of the company’s “friendship campaign” to boost morale.
However, several studies have found that forcing employees to smile — or put on fake smiles — at work would actually worsen mood, affect health, and negatively impact productivity. A German study found that “professional smilers”, such as flight attendants, sales personnel, waiters and others in contact with the public for extended periods of time were at risk of serious health implications. One of the lead researchers, Dieter Zapf, commented that this fake friendliness led to depression, stress and a lowering of the immune system - which in turn could lead to other serious ailments like cardiovascular problems.
A recent study at Michigan State suggested customer-service workers who fake smiles throughout the day worsen their mood and withdraw from work, thus affecting productivity. On the other hand, workers who smile as a result of cultivating positive thoughts — for instance, a tropical vacation — improved their mood and withdrew less. The effect seemed to be greater on women than on men. In fact, women in the study were more negatively affected by surface acting (i.e., fake smiling) than men, but were helped more by deep acting (i.e., a genuine smile).
The key take-away from these studies is that forcing a smile can make someone feel inauthentic. These feelings can be internalized, but also project outwards. Think about all the negative connotations of salespersons and their “alligator smiles.”
For a smile to have a positive effect, it must be genuine.
Creating a Genuine Smile in the Workplace
If you want to use the positive power of a smile to improve your workplace, here are some things you can do to put a genuine smile on your (or someone else’s) face:
- Say hello and smile when you see a co-worker.
- Bring treats or healthy snacks to share (cookies are always a good idea).
- Hold the elevator or open a door for someone.
- Share a laugh with your co-workers. Tell a joke or a funny story. Forward a funny email or cartoon (but keep it tasteful).
- Make yourself available and approachable when someone has a question.
- Send an email to the tech support representative who helped you solve your computer issues.
- Acknowledge people for a job well-done or thank them for helping you.
- Repeat something nice that you heard about a co-worker or your boss.
- Replace supplies that are low (fill up the photocopier or printer).
- Check up on someone who looks like they are having a bad day.
Think You Can Tell a Fake from the Real Thing?
Think you can tell who the “faker” is? Try this test to see how good you are at identifying the genuine article.
So what do you think - does smiling have an impact in your workplace?