Customer mistreatment can harm your sleep quality, according to new psychology research

Being mistreated by a customer can negatively impact your sleep quality and morning recovery state, according to new research published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.

“One of my broader research interests is employees’ work or job stress. In particular, with the rise of service industry, service employees are important human capital for organizations, but employers do not often pay attention to their stress issues at work,” said YoungAh Park, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois and the corresponding author of the new study.

“I became interested in call center workers as their interaction with customers occur over the phone and they often report experiencing customer mistreatment. Accordingly, I wanted to test how often those call center workers receive customer mistreatment on a daily basis, how it would affect their nightly sleep quality for recovery from job stress, and what factors help cope with the stress-related customers.”

In the study, 71 call center employees in Korea completed two daily surveys over two consecutive weeks. In the morning, the participants evaluated their previous night’s sleep and their recovery state. In the evening, the participants reported customer mistreatment — such as being yelled at or interrupted — and evaluated their mood after work.

The researchers found a link between customer mistreatment at work and sleep quality.

“On days when workers experienced more customer mistreatment, they were much less likely to gain good night sleep and recovery from stress because of their negative affect at the end of their workday. This is paradoxical in that workers need to ensure good night sleep for their stress recovery, but when they need it the most, they are least likely to have it,” Park told PsyPost.

Feeling in control of one’s work, however, appeared to protect against the negative impact of customer mistreatment.

“This paradox, however, did not occur universally to all workers in my study — those who enjoyed greater job control or autonomy or who were more confident in getting recovery experiences off-work were less affected by the daily stress involving customer mistreatment,” Park said.

A similar study, which was published in Occupational Health Science, found workplace incivility had the potential to not only negatively affect an employee’s sleep but their partner’s as well.

The new research provides new insight into how customer mistreatment can impact day-to-day functioning. But the long-term effects of such mistreatment is unclear.

“The daily investigation lasted only 10 consecutive work days in my study. Thus, if employees are constantly exposed to misbehaving customers for a longer period, we don’t know whether their job autonomy would still enable them to reduce the stress from customer mistreatment,” Park explained.

“I’d say that organizations should put their preemptive effort in minimizing abusive, misbehaving customers.”

The study, “Customer Mistreatment Harms Nightly Sleep and Next-Morning Recovery: Job Control and Recovery Self-Efficacy as Cross-Level Moderators“, was authored by YoungAh Park and Sooyeol Kim.