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Why you should smile at work even when you are not happy..

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Numerous studies have proven that positive emotions—such as happiness, hope, inspiration, love, or anything that can make you feel good—does not only improve your well being, but has positive effects on your health and relationships too.

Applied in the business setting, though, how would smiling in your workplace affect your work or your relationship with customers?

Is there an effect at all?

Researchers Eugene Kim and David Yoon set out to find the answer.

In their study published in The Journal of Applied Psychology, Kim and Yoon focused on the interactions between sales personnel and their customers in several stores located inside a shopping mall in Seoul.

The employees’ behaviours were observed, and their customers’ responses to them were noted as well. 

Afterwards, both the staff and the customers were asked questions regarding their personality traits as well as their mood immediately following the interaction. A total of 117 interactions were recorded.

What Kim and Yoon discovered was that when the retail staff smiled at their customers to appear friendly, even if the smile was not genuine, the employees did end up happier and in a good mood when the customers smiled back.

According to the researchers, this finding was easily explained through the social interaction model that suggests emotions shown by employees will affect the response of their customers, which will again affect the mood of the employees.

Even if the sales personnel didn’t really feel happy prior to the interaction, the researchers found out that the mere act of smiling at the customers and seeing them smile back improved the employees’ mood.

Whether it is just to mimic the emotions being shown or is an intentional effort to be friendlier, just the act of smiling does seem enough to make one happier.

However, this effect does depend on the kind of customer the staff has.

Customers who are lower in agreeableness and emotional stability were sensitive to environmental cues and thus were more likely to smile back at smiling employees.

Those who scored higher in these factors were less likely to be influenced by the staff’s positive emotion. 

The EBW View

Researchers Kim and Yoon admitted that there was a limitation in how they handled the study. They did not measure the employees’ mood prior to each interaction with the customer, hence lacking a baseline data to measure with.

This means that there’s a possibility that the interaction with the customer had nothing to do with the employees’ mood at the end.

Despite this methodological limitation, however, the value of the study remains.

It shows that team leaders should learn how to motivate employees to show more positive emotions, especially when they are in direct contact with customers.

Employee satisfaction seems higher and morale improves when team members learn how to use positive emotional displays, not only for their customers, but more importantly, for themselves too.

There are many excellent ways to motivate employees to show more positive emotions.

Here are just a few that research has shown to be particularly effective:


Learn to be calm at crucial times. Calming techniques include meditation, yoga, and muscle relaxation exercises but in the workplace these techniques may not be appropriate so you may just want to use your Business Emotional Intelligence to help you remain relaxed.

The primary positive emotion associated with being calm is contentment. Contentment is particularly good for reversing negative emotions and building resilience to negative emotions.

Finding "the Positive" in situations

Finding positive meaning works in three different ways:

  1. Reframing adverse events in a positive light (also called positive reappraisal)

  2. Infusing ordinary events with positive value

  3. Pursuing and attaining realistic goals

The trick is to take time to evaluate every situation you’re in and try to apply those three ways to find positive meaning. The payoff is that employees who find a lot of positive meaning in their lives will experience more of the whole range of positive emotions.

Just Smile

Our brains don’t know the difference between a real smile and a fake smile, so when you fake a smile, your brain responds in the same way (releases the same ‘happy chemicals’) that it would if your smile had been genuine. So even faking positive emotions can have a real, positive impact.

Do something you enjoy

It is unlikely you do something you enjoy all the time at work, so make sure part of your day is dedicated to doing something you really enjoy. Make sure you know what your favourite part of your job is and take time to do it every day.


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The EBW Global Emotional Intelligence System is a unique assessment and development tool for Managers, Executive Coaches, HR experts and Psychologists.

Based on over 20 years of worldwide use and research, it enables you to get leaders and teams to understand why they behave the way they do and use a highly effective 10 step framework to improve their occupational performance.

With a practitioner's network based on 6 continents, all of whom are licensed to use the EBW System, we guarantee the EBW Emotional Intelligence approach empowers leaders and teams to transform themselves and their organisations. 


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