Bright Smile May Equal Bright Returns For Your Employer

August 15, 2003 ( - When you smile, the whole world may smile with you - especially your employer who may see bigger returns.

Researchers at the University of Michigan have found friendlier employees to be more productive at their jobs. This is mainly due to friendly workers paying more attention to indirect meanings, working well with other cultures and being perceived as trustworthy, according to a Reuters report.

The study, which included cross-border comparisons of worker ethic, found that keeping an emotional distance may not be the most effective way to get the job done, said Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks – the psychologist who led the study. Sanchez-Burks said an impersonal style blinds workers from noticing differences in style and they also often fail to notice nonverbal communication.

Spanning the Globe

Comparing notes with colleagues at the University of Michigan, Seoul National University in Korea and the International Business University in Nanjing, China, the study involved experiments on various scenario behaviors for students and employees in Fortune 500 firms. What was discovered is that those subjects with an impersonal style were subconsciously restricting “the bandwidth of information a person attends to in the workplace,” Sanchez-Burks said. “What is literally said will be followed closely but information about the context in which the information is conveyed – information often critical for task success and productivity – is lost.”

Further, the missed subtle communications is only magnified in diverse organizations, the study found. This is apparently due to people with other cultural backgrounds not being nearly as impersonal as mainstream Americans.

Many Americans though may not even realize they are being distant, with the study finding the impersonal attitude at work is rooted in Protestant beliefs of putting emotion aside at the office. When it comes to social settings though, the ice tends to thaw and Americans are highly friendly, the researchers found.

However, the question now becomes, how do employers and workers transfer the social butterfly aptitude to the workplace. “For a very long time, (this impersonal work ethic) has been seen as essential to the success of Western business organizations. So it’s difficult to accept that staying on task may actually be a barrier to productivity in today’s global environment,” Sanchez-Burks said.

Interestingly, the American style of keeping things impersonal at the workplace appears to be confined to the United States. The study found that in contrast to the United States workforce, workers in South Korea, Japan and India and especially Latin American countries place high importance on personal relationships at work, he said.

Sanchez-Burks said Latin Americans become friends with people they are doing business with first and then move onto the work while Americans work first and then become friends.