Can dealing with difficult customers actually cause self-destructive behaviors for employees after work hours? A study published in Applied Psychology suggests that service workers who are mistreated by customers may engage in behaviors such as impulsive buying and phone overuse.
Being treated poorly by customers is something many people who work in the service industry are very familiar with. Customer mistreatment has been shown to be related to poorer job performance, higher levels of withdrawal, and increased deviant behaviors for employees. Despite this, how these interactions affect the behaviors of employees after work hours has not been heavily researched.
For their new study, Hui Zhang and colleagues utilized 57 employees of a call center in China who provided tax support through the phone. Participants answered surveys online twice a day. Their afternoon survey measured customer mistreatment, self-control capacity impairment, relaxation and learning at work while their daily morning survey measured impulsive buying, overeating behaviors, and mobile phone overuse. Morning survey asked about the previous night’s behavior.
The researchers found that employees who experienced mistreatment by customers experienced lower levels of self-control capacity at the end of the day. This lowered capacity led to increases in impulsive buying and mobile phone overuse. This relationship was not shown for overeating behaviors.
Employees who took time to relax did not show the same strong relationship between customer mistreatment and impairments in self-control that employees who were low on relaxation did, suggesting that relaxation has the potential to ease negative effects.
This study took important steps into better understanding the relationship between being mistreated by customers and partaking in maladaptive behaviors. Despite this, there are some limitations to note. One such limitation is that only people working at a call center in China were surveyed. Future research should include a more diverse sample with people from different countries and working in different service jobs. Additionally, this study relied on self-report for maladaptive behavior, which can be vulnerable to bias.
“The current study finds that daily experience of customer mistreatment at work positively predicts impulsive buying and mobile phone overuse after work through self-control capacity impairment,” the researchers concluded.
“In addition, the positive effect of daily customer mistreatment experience on self-control capacity impairment is buffered by taking some time for relaxation at work. These findings extend our understanding of how daily experience customer mistreatment affects employee after-work maladaptive behaviours through the self-regulation impairment process beyond the affective process and shed light on how recovery activities (relaxation at work) can help employees’ better cope with customer mistreatment experience.”
The study, “Too depleted to control yourself? Effect of customer mistreatment on after-work maladaptive behaviours through self-control capacity impairment“, was authored by Hui Zhang, Zhiqing E. Zhou, Yanjun Liu, Yanwei Shi, and Jian Xiao.