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An empirical analysis of surface acting in intra-organizational relationships


  • An earlier version of this study has been selected for the Best Papers Proceedings of the 2009 Academy of Management Conference, Chicago, in the Organizational Behavior Division.

Correspondence to: Hakan Ozcelik, College of Business Administration, California State University, 6000 J Street, Sacramento California, 95819-6088, U.S.A. E-mail:


Prior research analyzing surface acting—employees' regulation of emotional expressions—has mostly focused on the interactions between front-line employees and their customers in service industries and paid very little attention to intra-organizational relationships. With an aim to shed light on this important yet relatively unexplored area, I developed a theoretical model analyzing the antecedents and outcomes of surface acting within organizations, by drawing on the sociometer theory and self-presentation theory frameworks.

To test the model, I conducted a cross-level field study in a sample of 65 work groups and 478 employees in two organizations, located in a large city in Northern California. I have collected the data from two sources, including employees and their supervisors who rated their performance. Results indicated that employees were more likely to engage in surface acting when their affective traits and personal goals were less congruent with work environment. Surface acting was also positively related to perceived organizational politics and self-monitoring. As for outcomes, surface acting was positively related to emotional exhaustion and negatively to performance. I discuss limitations, implications, and future research direction. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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