The Role of Prosocial Motives in Predicting Emotional Labor Strategy and Service Performance: Understanding the 'Why' as Well as the 'How'

Open Access
Maneotis, Sarina M.
Graduate Program:
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
September 16, 2011
Committee Members:
  • Alicia Grandey, Thesis Advisor
  • Alicia Ann Grandey, Thesis Advisor
  • Prosocial Motivation
  • Service Performance
  • Emotional Labor
Positive employee displays, or ‘service with a smile,’ predict customer satisfaction. Thus, it is important to understand how employees create such positive displays. One way of understanding how employees create positive displays is through the use of emotional labor, or emotion regulation done for a wage. Two strategies have been focused on in the literature; surface acting (SA), or expression modification, and deep acting (DA), or feeling modification. It is often found that DA relates positively to performance and SA has no relationship. Self Determination Theory and Relational Job Design theory are drawn on to posit that prosocial motives for work are an important individual difference to help increase the field’s understanding of when DA and SA are used and when they predict service performance. It was predicted that prosocial motives would be positively related to DA, and unrelated to SA (hypothesis 1). It was also predicted that while DA would mediate an indirect relationship between prosocial motives and rapport (hypothesis 2), prosocial motives would moderate the negative relationship between SA and rapport (hypothesis 3). Using a field sample of grocery store clerks to test the hypotheses, it was found that prosocial motives were positively related to DA and were negatively related to SA. DA was found to be unrelated to rapport, and thus did not mediate the relationship between prosocial motives and rapport. Prosocial motives did not have a main effect on rapport. Finally, support was found for an interaction between SA and prosocial motives when predicting rapport. When SA was high, performance was nearly the same, regardless of motives. However, when SA was low, those with high prosocial motives were found to be higher performers than those with low prosocial motives. The findings suggest that one must either engage in SA or be prosocially motivated to perform well, but that there is no added benefit of having both. This supports the notion that researchers need to understand why as well as how employees behave at work to understand service performance.