August 27, 2020

There are many reasons why people put on a happy face at work. Whether it’s to please customers, to live up to job descriptions that seek applicants who are “upbeat” and “enthusiastic,” or simply to smoothe the social machinery of the workplace, many of us feel pressure to act happy even when we aren’t. Yet studies show that the belief that happy workers are more productive is not necessarily true, and requiring people to change or deliberately obscure their emotions to suit others creates emotional labour that can lead to a host of negative consequences. Is there a duty to at least appear to be happy or cheerful at work? Can employees be disciplined for having a “bad attitude”? How does attitude affect an arbitrator’s assessment of penalty?

In this session, labour experts will examine happiness and attitude in the workplace, addressing issues such as the following:

  • Is there a duty to be happy at work? Could the answer vary depending on whether the employee has a customer-facing role where “service with a smile” is an expected norm?
  • Can a duty to be happy have discriminatory effects? For instance, are women more frequently expected to appear cheerful than men? Can employees from certain racial or cultural backgrounds feel a greater need to regulate their behaviour? Do higher-status employees in an organization typically have more leeway with their emotions?
  • Can an employee be disciplined for having a “bad attitude” or for their personality alone, or is objective misconduct required? Can these aspects provide added justification or bolster a case for discipline? Can “personality” be raised as a defence?
  • Does behaviour need to meet a legal definition of harassment in order to impose discipline? Can policies such as respectful workplace policies be used to enforce standards of behaviour when conduct doesn’t amount to harassment?
  • What if an employee’s behaviour interferes with or upsets the normal operation of the workplace? What are some examples of conduct that would rise to that level?
  • Do arbitrators take an employee’s attitude into account when they are considering whether reinstatement is appropriate? What if the employee’s attitude or behaviour generates friction with co-workers?
  • Are there any measures that employees with a “bad attitude” should consider taking in order to mitigate potential consequences in the workplace? What about suggestions for managers who have to address this issue with employees?