Everyone has a bad day now and then. Fights with the spouse, difficult children, and health problems can overwhelm people. Add to that the stress of having conflicts at work and people can feel emotionally exhausted. But just how do the work situations affect stress levels and coping outside of work? According to a new study conducted by Judith Volmer of the Department of Psychology and Sport Sciences at the University of Erlangen in Germany, social conflicts with customers (SCCs) take an emotional toll on individuals long after they clock out.
Volmer recruited 98 civil service workers for her study and asked them to document their interactions with customers daily for 5 days. The participants were instructed to describe the SCCs and how they felt after they left work. Volmer discovered that one of the biggest common denominators among the participants who experienced SCCs was the inability to emotionally detach from the situation. “On days with more experience of SCCs, employees found it more difficult to ‘switch off mentally’ from work,” said Volmer. “Likewise, we found a positive relationship between daily SCCs and negative work reflection.” This was evident in the large rates of rumination reported by the participants with high levels of negative SCCs.
In addition to rumination, the SCCs caused increases in negative affect in the participants. This type of mood shift taxes valuable emotional resources and can leave an individual feeling emotionally depleted. Taken together, the results of this study demonstrate the negative effect that SCCs can have on many aspects of personal and work-related performance. When individuals are emotionally overwhelmed, they are less able to handle other stressors, such as spousal or interpersonal challenges. A drain on emotional resources can also lead to lost productivity, high turnover, and burnout on the job. Volmer hopes the findings of this study encourage future studies that explore ways in which employees can be insulated from the maladaptive consequences of SCCs.
Volmer, J., Binnewies, C., Sonnentag, S., Niessen, C. (2012). Do social conflicts with customers at work encroach upon our private lives? A diary study. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology 17.3: 304-315.
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