New research published in Human Performance (Routledge) really makes one think about the old adage service with a smile as it examines counterproductive work behavior (CWB) by restaurant workers towards customers they serve.
CWB refers to "volitional acts by employees that harm or intend to harm organizations and their stakeholders," according to the study. It is often considered a form of behavioral strain that may be used to cope with or express negative emotions, or it may be used to directly address the source of the problem.
Using survey research of 438 food service employees (including servers, hosts, bartenders, cashiers, and managers), the researchers found that employees who experience extra stress from customers are more likely to lash out at customers with CWB. Customer stressors include disproportionate customer expectations, customer verbal aggression, disliked or unpleasant customers, and ambiguous customer expectations. Having frequent, demanding interactions with customers is taxing on service employees who, despite feeling frustrated with or angered by customers, must maintain a friendly demeanor. As a result, employees may have few emotional resources left to allocate toward positive service behaviors.
"Food service employees generally do their best to provide a positive experience for customers," said Dr. Lisa Penney, one of the co-authors who once worked in food service herself. "However, they are human too, and the strain of dealing with extremely rude, demanding or difficult customers can manifest in ways that do not benefit customers."
The actual CWBs food service employees admitted to, by percentage of the sample, included actions like making fun of customers to someone else (79%), lying (78%), making a customer wait longer (65%), ignoring them (61%), acting rudely (52%), arguing (43%), to absolute extremes such as refusing a reasonable request (25%), confronting a customer about tips (19%), insulting a customer (14%) increasing a tip without permission (11%), contaminating food (6%), or threatening a customer (5%).
"The laborious emotional demands of these positions make it difficult for an employee to maintain positive emotions while managing any negative emotions they may experience on the job," said Dr. Emily M. Hunter, a co-author and former server herself as well. "We hope this article is just the beginning of a line of research that digs into the motivations behind negative employee behavior toward customers."
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