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Are employees' emotional labor strategies triggering or reducing customer incivility: a sociometer theory perspective

Xiaojun Zhan (Research Center of Cluster and Enterprise Development, Jiangxi University of Finance and Economics, Nanchang, China)
Wenhao Luo (School of Economics and Management, North China University of Technology, Beijing, China)
Hanyu Ding (School of Business Administration, Jiangxi University of Finance and Economics, Nanchang, China)
Yanghao Zhu (School of Business Administration, Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, Wuhan, China)
Yirong Guo (School of Economics and Management, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China)

Journal of Service Theory and Practice

ISSN: 2055-6225

Article publication date: 12 January 2021

Issue publication date: 20 April 2021




Prior studies have mainly attributed customer incivility to dispositional characteristics, whereas little attention has been paid to exploring service employees' role in triggering or reducing customer incivility. The purpose of the present study is to propose and test a model in which service employees' emotional labor strategies affect customer incivility via influencing customers' self-esteem threat, as well as examine the moderating role of customer's perception of service climate.


Based on a matched sample consisting of 317 employee-customer dyads in China, multiple regression analysis and indirect effect tests were employed to test our model.


The study shows that employee surface acting is positively related to customer incivility, whereas deep acting is negatively associated with customer incivility. Moreover, customer self-esteem threat mediates the relationship between both types of emotional labor and customer incivility. Customer perception of service climate moderates the relationship between deep acting and customer self-esteem threat.


The current research broadens the antecedents of customer incivility from the employee perspective and sheds more light on the role of customer self-esteem in the interactions between employees and customers. It also demonstrates a complementary relationship between service climate and individual employees' emotional labor strategies, thereby expanding the existing understanding of the management of employees' emotional labor.



All authors contribute equally to this research. This study was supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China (Project Numbers: 71662013, 72072002, 72002113).


Zhan, X., Luo, W., Ding, H., Zhu, Y. and Guo, Y. (2021), "Are employees' emotional labor strategies triggering or reducing customer incivility: a sociometer theory perspective", Journal of Service Theory and Practice, Vol. 31 No. 3, pp. 296-317.



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