Perspective Taking as an Intervention for Employee Emotional Labor: A Training and Development Approach



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Hospitality organizations inherently depend on employee-customer interactions. In fact, many of the service quality and satisfaction dimensions rely on human interaction, yet organization training programs usually focus on technical skills. Research is clear that service employees often deal with customers who can be rude and aggressive and that these interactions can have negative impacts on service employees. However, there has been little research examining possible intervention or training tools for employees. Therefore, the purpose of the current studies was to examine how perspective taking can influence affective reactions toward difficult customer interactions (i.e., negative affect and empathy) and critical employee performance outcomes. Perspective taking involves considering situations from another point of view (Galinsky & Ku, 2004; Galinsky & Moskowitz, 2000), and has been used as an intervention to help promote diversity management programs (Madera, 2017), handle customer injustice (Rupp, Silke McCance, Spencer, & Sonntag, 2008), and goal-directed behavior at work (Brown, Westbrook, & Challagalla, 2005). Using the affective event theory (AET) (Weiss & Cropanzano, 1996) as a theoretical framework, Study 1 examines how perspective taking can be an intervention for service managers during difficult customer interactions. The theoretical framework of the AET suggests perspective taking can impact service performance by shifting employee’s affective reactions during difficult service interactions. Deep acting and customer compensation were examined as outcomes of customer perspective taking. In addition, negative affect and empathy were examined as mediators of the effect of customer perspective taking on the outcomes. A 2-group (customer perspective taking: yes or no) experimental design was used to examine the between-subjects relationship among frontline managers. The results showed that taking the perspective of a customer led to more deep acting and customer compensation via the mediating effects of affective reactions (negative affect and empathy). The results suggest that perspective taking can be a viable intervention tool to help employees maximize service delivery with difficult and demanding customers. Service interactions and work events are dynamic and vary in occurrences and how employees appraise the interaction. According to the AET (Weiss & Cropanzano, 1996), employees’ daily appraisal of work events causes affective reactions, influencing working attitudes and behaviors. Therefore, Study 2 used an experience sampling method (ESM) to examine customer perspective taking through a longitudinal design consisting of five days of baseline measurements, followed by five days of intervention measurements. The ESM approach used in Study 2 accounts for the within-person level variance of daily fluctuations in affective reactions to determine the potency of perspective taking as a training intervention. Frontline service employees completed daily measures of affective reactions (i.e., negative affect and empathy) and employee performance (i.e., deep acting and customer helping behaviors). The results replicated Study 1 in that perspective taking led to lower levels of negative affect and higher felt empathy toward customers. In addition, feeling less negative affect and more empathy led to more deep acting and customer helping behaviors. Study 2 also shows that regardless of fluctuations in daily difficult customer interactions, the positive effect of perspective taking on the outcomes remained consistent at the within-person level.



Emotional labor, Perspective taking