Customer Conflicts Can Take the Joy Out of Downtime

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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  • brandon


    August 6th, 2012 at 6:41 PM

    Look, is it too much to ask just to have a job that I can leave behind at the end of the day? It’s not that I don’t want to give 100% because I do, I just don’t want to have to take it home with me when the work day is through.

    I know far too many people who let the job rule the life after work too. That’s not what I want. I want to go in, do my job, draw my pay, and go home and leave it all behind me, knowing that it will still be there the next day.

    the conflicts, the to do lists, I don’t want any of that. call me unmotivated if you will, but I see it more as I want to have my own life outside of work.

  • Sean


    August 6th, 2012 at 6:52 PM

    While on the job setbacks can definitely affect one in his personal life,the level of the effect varies from person to person.My brother can get bogged down for days if his boss is unhappy with him but I can easily overcome such a thing quite easily.Such individuals need to be taught how to cope with workplace setbacks.

  • H.T


    August 7th, 2012 at 11:44 AM

    I cannot begin to express how much work stress and conflicts can harm someone’s life.I worked in an organization where every other person was always ready to fight at all times! I think it was dealing with upset customers all day long but everybody there was just so stressed and seemed so irritated at all times.

    I quit the job solely due to that reason and would take a happy workplace any day over one where you and your colleagues are screamed at by the customers day in and day out and everybody ends up being rude to each other.

  • Georgia


    August 7th, 2012 at 3:59 PM

    While I don’t necessarily think that you have to allow the job to rule your life, it is a little more adult like and responsible to take some pride in your work and constantly strive to do things in a better way.
    I don’t think that this always means that you have to bring work home with you, but just realize that in the real grown up world that is inevitable at some point in time.

    If you are a good employee and a hard worker, that will make your employer take notice and hopefully move you along in the company. But of you are complacent with being strictly a 9 to 5er, then I hope that you are ccontent with being that forever because that sort of mentality will rarely get you beyond the minimum wage.

  • Lanette


    August 7th, 2012 at 4:19 PM

    I deal with ornery customers EVERY DAY and they can be so rude that I know that there are times that they really get my blood pressure boiling. I have to remember though that in the industry that I work the customer is always right, and that I can’t let the negativity of others cause me to be rude to them when they call me looking for answers and help. I just wish that they would remember the same thing.

  • shaun petersen

    shaun petersen

    August 7th, 2012 at 7:31 PM

    there is just no escaping the workplace put down is there?!have been through this for years and it really does bring down your entire life satisfaction if you ask stress and problems are pushing people to end their lives, is any more proof needed?!

  • cyndi coxe

    cyndi coxe

    August 8th, 2012 at 4:23 AM

    What is it all about that we take stuff like this so personally? What does that say about us when we allow what others say to us affect how we feel about ourselves after hours, and indeed how we then allow ourselves to get bogged down in it in our home lives? I can do my job and of course there will be days when someone gets angry with me no matter how hard you try to not let it happen. But if you know that you are honestly doing your best, that there should be no worries. Tomorrow is another day.

  • Landry


    August 8th, 2012 at 4:14 PM

    Hey Brandon, just give this a little thought buddy. There ain’t a supervisor anywhere, myself included, who wants to hire someone who isn’t in the game to give it his all. I want people who will go above and beyond what I expect from them.

    And as an employer, I don’t think that’s too much to ask. Why do I want to hire some young guy who really does not wnat to invest his all in my company and his job over someone who is more professional and has more experience, and is willing to do everything that I need him to do to help my company be a success.

    I’m sorry, but it’s your kind of slacker attitude that really is wrong with society as a whole today. No one your age has any kind of work ethic, you don’t want to have any responsibility, and it’s that kind of combination that lets me know that you wouldn’t be a good fit with my team.

  • alicia


    August 9th, 2012 at 12:23 PM

    I know from the moment that my husband walks in the door at night whether he has had to deal with some rough customers that day.
    Believe me, he has no sense of what leaving it all behind at work is like.
    He thinks I want to hear all about it, but really I just want him to turn all of that work stuff off when he comes on and focus on me and the kids.
    He does not know how to do that, and it is beginning to drive a real wedge between us.
    The money os good, but I would rather have him fully engaged with us instead of always dwelling on the things that do not involve us at all.

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