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  • 12.09.16

Can Being Visibly Happy Hurt Your Career?

Some research hints that agreeable people and those who smile a lot may face hidden obstacles in the workplace.

Can Being Visibly Happy Hurt Your Career?
[Photo: Flickr user Iouri Goussev]

Here’s something to smile—or, on second thought, not smile—about: If you’re one of those people who involuntarily scowl even when you’re feeling fine, your boss and coworkers just might treat you better for it.

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Researchers Alixandra Barasch (New York University), Emma E. Levine (University of Chicago) and Maurice E. Schweitzer (Wharton School) tested the link between the magnitude of positive emotions people display and others’ perceptions of them. Their findings concluded that people who appear really happy also appear to be more naive than people who seem just a little bit happy.

Read on to learn what your boss and coworkers really think about that smile of yours, as well as when to use it to your advantage.

When It Hurts To Smile

The researchers found that very happy people are believed to shelter themselves from negative information and be more trusting of others. In other words, very happy people purposely wear rose-colored glasses to filter out potentially important negative information from their field of vision.

But the real problem is how very happy workers can be taken advantage of in the workplace. The study found that very happy people are more likely to receive biased advice (“You can totally show up late to that meeting with the boss,” says the coworker who arrives to the same meeting five minutes early to kiss up to the boss) and are more likely to be exploited in distributive negotiations (because that big perma-smile makes you seem gullible).

Need proof that your cheerful attitude may be doing more harm than good to your career? According to a study published in The European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, employees who are agreeable and nice have lower salaries than their more assertive and domineering counterparts.

Smiling Is A Fine Line

Smiling can even hurt your chances of getting a job, according to researchers at Northeastern University. The study found that smiling too much in an interview can have a negative effect on applicants in any profession, especially in roles that may be seen as more “serious,” including reporting and data entry. However, in jobs that are seen as more sociable, such as teaching, sales, or DJ-ing, smiling apparently causes less of a disadvantage.

But this doesn’t mean you should immediately start practicing your best pout for your next interview. “Less is better than more, but if you never smile, you probably won’t make a very good impression,” Judith Hall, a coauthor of the Northeastern study, told the Huntington News.

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The researchers found that it’s best to smile at the beginning and end of the interview and less during the middle when you’re answering questions. Think about it: Should you really be smiling when talking about a time you failed or a challenge you faced?

It’s a fine line, as you don’t want to appear cold and stiff, but you also don’t want to be so animated that you’re putting on a show. Like the warning label on a case of beer that says to “consume responsibly,” you’re going to want to smile in moderation both during the interview and in the workplace.


A version of this article originally appeared on Monster. It is adapted and reprinted with permission.

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