Friday, 28 September 2012

How they keep on smiling at Disney


I recently came across a piece on the 'happiest place on earth', Florida's Walt Disney World. Several nuggets were noteworthy: Disney World and its related local industries make Disney the largest single-site employer in the US. The site is substantial enough to warrant its own Disney police force. And the operation practices what they call the 'science' of guestology (google it). Of most interest is how Disney trains its employees to deliver that happy feeling to its paying customers.

Anne Reyers' and Jonathan Matusitz's paper focuses on emotional labour: the effort we put in to regulate our emotions to deliver the outcomes the organisation expects. In Disney's case, this is happiness and delight for every guest, all the time, enshrining the notion that even a single unsatisfied guest cancels out 70 happy ones. Walt himself, having observed frowns and negativity on tours of the grounds, insisted on Disney University, a mandatory training process for every employee, that more than anything else is an extended emotion regulation regime. From the off, the training frames the job in terms of play rather than work, and trainees are taken through methods of managing facial and voice cues to maintain a happy, relaxed, and accessible approach. This is effectively a masterclass in surface acting.

However, research suggests that Disney employees actively involved in surface acting are more likely to experience emotional exhaustion. This accords with broader evidence that surface acting is hard work. Genuinely feeling the emotions you wish to exhibit - deep acting - is aspired for at the Disney University but there are no guarantees when a pushy brat keeps calling you names. Indeed, other research indicates that buttoning back anger is the hardest thing to do for Disney employees, and having to keep doing so is a major driver of emotional exhaustion.  Studies on Disney employees suggests two ways to stave this off are by understanding the importance of  emotional regulation and a fit to role requirements, and by believing that their manager values their emotional contributions, perhaps by offering rewards (in keeping with the ERI stress model mentioned recently). Reyers and Matusitz believe that the training at Disney does in fact attend to these two coping mechanisms, which may partly explain the low attrition rate of 12-15%, compared to the 60% standard in hospitality roles. It's also worth noting recent research that if the positive emotion is reciprocated, staff may end up feeling genuinely happier too.

These things are far from Disney-specific. These principles 'have come to govern the rest of the customer service world' to push 'the frontier of Disney-like happiness across the world'...which may delight or horrify you.

ResearchBlogging.orgAnne Reyers, & Jonathan Matusitz (2012). Emotional Regulation at Walt Disney World: An Impression Management View Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health, 27 (3), 139-159 DOI: 10.1080/15555240.2012.701167

18 comments:

  1. I think that if you have the principles come to take the rest of the world for customer servicce, it would more likely delight you instead of horrifying you. People from all over the world enjoy going to Walt Disney World to have a great time there. I could agree that the employees may get run down at times, since they always have to put on a show for the customers and they may have to deal with some bratty kids at times, but they still do a very good job and they shouldn't let little kids effect them on how they're doing their job.

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    1. Says somebody who has never in their entire lives worked customer service anywhere, CLEARLY.

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  2. Walt Disney World is a place where little children to grandparents go to experience the happiness and joy they felt while watching Disney movies or programs. It represents one of the happiest places on Earth. People who are hired to work there go in knowing that they are going to have to put on a front to supress how they feel because they are representing Walt Disney. It does get frustrating to not be able to express feelings especially negative, but they go in knowing what is expected of them. Most of the time smiling and laughing can turn your mood around even if you don't feel it at first. I'm sure the employees have to go through tests to see if they're capable of regulating their emotions.

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  3. The key word in this blog is emotionally taxing. The actors at Disney are just people like you and I. They don't always have good days but still have to 'act' like they have. It takes a lot to act out the emotions. All of this can have a psychological effect and make the actor or actress emotionally mute. There is only so much a person can do before they become overwhelmed. Just like working on math or science homework for hours at a time, eventually you just can't process anymore, after some sleep or a long break you can go back to working on the subject. Sometimes our brains get overloaded.

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  4. The employees at Disneyland are like every other eployee for any job. Every job is exausting in some way but to be a professional, leaving personal issues at the door is a must. I think the excessive training that they require may be a bit much, however, dealing with small children and their protective parents, having your emotions under control is key to avoiding complaints.

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  5. I believe its like every job, you are supposed to act happy and glad to see what ever person you may be interacting with. No one wants to go to disney world and see Cinderella with a frowny face. Same goes for everywhere. I dont like walking into walmart to buy something and get a horrid look from who ever i ask to help me, its their job to help me not to make me feel bad that i couldnt find a certain thing.

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  6. I believe that life is not lineal, it has ups and downs, so for everybody is normal to have other feelings besides happiness. Now, I also believe that if you love what you do (work) you should enjoy doing it; I'm not saying that you should be happy all the time, because I understand that life happens, but you should be able to enjoy doing your job, and dedicate to give your best.
    On the other hand, I think that HAVING to maintain a certain mood during work can be really stressful. You are smiling because you have to, not because you feel like smiling. Controlling in such a radical way all your emotions is very hard, and I think the person needs to have a really strong personality and know how to put whatever he or she is feeling in a second plane. Maybe the training is enough to help Disney's employees to hide their emotions, but obviously is not enough to actually make them believe that they are completely happy all the time.
    All those employees that make our vacations so specials, are human too, they feel just like us... and even if they love what they are doing, the fact of HAVING to spread happiness and delight everywhere and all the time can be so stressful and frustrating!

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  7. There are other ways of coping with emotion than supressing it. Van Maanen and Schein wrote a cracking paper (rather old now) about life in Disneyland, where employees managed sly digs at the customers who were rude or irritating. Much more human than keeping a smile plastered on your face and gritting your teeth.

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    1. You hit it right on the head. I worked at Disney in college. I'm a bit of an oddball with a sense of humor so they put me on the Jungle Cruise. They are very good about putting people in jobs that fit their personality.
      Mental exhaustion on the Cruise came in the form of repeating the same, corny 10-minute spiel twice while you drove the boat, then getting a ten-minute rest period. Somtimes you would rotate to the dock to help put people in boats, ut no one liked that job. You're a factory worker, so like factory workers we found small ways to rebel. We changed the spiel and substituted out own jokes. We took sly potshots at guests that actually made them laugh too. Others in this comments section talk about how it's your job to be nice.I understand this, but Disney expects a level of niceness exponentially higher than any other customer service job.

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  8. Working at Disney or any acting job where you must be happy all of the time can not be easy. You must use the Display Rules at all times which involves using your facial expressions constantly. You use your Amygdala when responding to situations with emotional responses. Such as using Competence Motivation which is the choice to use your behavior to display control of emotion in a situation. To cope with having to use your emotion and mask it you may have to use positive reinforcement and motivation. Such as achievement motivation which is directing your behavior to benefit you in the end.

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  9. Sadly, i have not been to Disney World. Granted, I really don't want to. The training must be really intense there. I mean,having to not show any other emotion but happiness around the
    customers seems impossible to me. I bet workers that have worked there for years have lost the ability to show other emotions. I just feel bad for the workers. the pay must be good if they
    are required to be happy all the time. Now i know I don't want to visit, for fear of the "crazy" smiles.

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  10. It is completely understandable how some of the employees at Disney can become emotionally exhausted. Everything they witness or hear at Disney may not always be pleasant. There are often times people in wheelchairs or people that come up to them with mental disabilities, and I imagine it can be hard to keep a smile on during those moments. The people playing these characters really need to use his or her amygdala in order to maintain his or her emotion when encountering these situations. In my opinion, the people playing these characters have very high expectations from children. They are potentially playing the part of a child's favorite movie character, and they need to make that character believable when the child sees them at Disney. I feel the job comes with a wide load of pressure, which can also contribute to the emotional exhaustion.

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    1. You're statment is rather offensive. The unpleasantess ususally comes at the hands of some vactioning idiot who think themselves priviledged. It is actually easier to understand people with diabilities and to be more forgiving of their actions, than those who are perfectly able, but insist on being assholes. While working at Disney, I never encountered anyone who was condescending to those who were less able to perform certain functions. Snide comments were reserved for the Veruca Salts of the world. Actually, the grown ups were far worse than the kids.

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  11. This is a great conversation going on here, so I'm just stepping in to remind people of the trickiness of managing internet conversations. Three rules I go by are:

    Think about how what you write might be interpreted by others, especially on sensitive issues
    Read others charitably, Assume that something that comes off badly may be due to a careless phrasing rather than malice or ill intent.
    Avoid posting in anger. If something trips a fuse, step away and come back to it later.
    Avoid making assumptions about people by what they've typed on the internet. It may be simpler to just state your view than to divine the intentions of others, especially if that'll lead you into denigration of them.

    As I said, some great things coming out of this conversation, so let's keep it up.

    Best
    Alex

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  12. Working at Disney or any acting work where you must be happy all of the time can not be easy every for people.

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  13. I dislike how this has spread over into other areas of customer service.

    With acting really happy, it is because all the characters are happy all the time as their in character item.

    However, in other areas of work, I hate surface acting.

    If I am a customer and somebody is acting happy, I react with distrust. I decide their business, product and platform is not to be trusted, and they likely are working against me.

    Maybe it is the estrogen in my system... but somebody being nice to me, usually means they are planning my doom.

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