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To Succeed at Your Job, Process Emotions

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Tip jar at a bar


Employees in the service industry often feel emotionally drained.


Emotional management techniques and diary-writing improve employee performance on the job and lead to better tips from customers.

The Details

A team of Dutch psychologists randomly assigned 41 hairdressers of varying age, experience, and employment (part-time and full-time) to an experimental or control group.  Hairdressers in the control group wrote in a diary about whatever they wanted on each day of the study. Those in the experimental group learned strategies to manage their emotions, then wrote down ideas for putting using these strategies in the diary.

Over the first four days of the study, hairdressers in the experimental group learned these four techniques:

  1. Understand that when customers act offensively, they do so because of their own problems, not the hairdresser's.
  2. Frame tough situations as challenges and opportunities to grow rather than viewing them as setbacks.
  3. Try to put yourself in the customer’s shoes.
  4. Think actively about positive past or future events.

After learning about these strategies, hairdressers in the experimental condition tried applying them at work over the next six days. Each evening, they reflected in their diaries on whether or not those strategies worked. At the end of the ten-day study, hairdressers in the experimental group earned more tips from customers compared to the hairdressers in the control group.    

Why This Works

Working in service jobs takes a large amount of mental and emotional energy. By learning and using strategies to manage these emotions, hairdressers can work more effectively, and earn more tips.  

When This Works Best

This solution works best when service workers want to succeed at work and put in effort to do well, as well as when they have the time to think and reflect using diaries or similar mediums.

The Original Study

Hülsheger, U. R., Lang, J. W., Schewe, A. F., & Zijlstra, F. R. (2015). When regulating emotions at work pays off: A diary and an intervention study on emotion regulation and customer tips in service jobs. Journal of Applied Psychology, 100(2), 263.

In The Press

Harvard Business Review

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Photo CC by Dave Dugdale