Supervisor-Directed Emotional Labor as Upward Influence: An Emotions-as-Social-Information Perspective

Hong Deng, Frank Walter, Yanjun Guan

Research output: Journal PublicationArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


To access organizational resources, subordinates often strive to influence supervisors' impressions. Moreover, subordinates' interactions with supervisors are known to be ripe with emotions. Nevertheless, research on upward impression management has rarely examined how subordinates' emotion regulation in supervisor interactions may shape their tangible outcomes. The present study introduces subordinates' emotional labor toward supervisors as a novel means of upward influence. Building on the emotions-as-social-information model, we propose that supervisor-directed emotional labor indirectly relates with supervisory reward recommendations by shaping supervisors' liking and perceived competence of subordinates. Moreover, we cast supervisors' epistemic motivation as a boundary condition for these indirect relations. We tested these notions using time-lagged data from 377 subordinates and 91 supervisors. When supervisors' epistemic motivation was higher (but not lower), (1) supervisor-directed surface acting related negatively with supervisors' liking and perceived competence of subordinates and (2) supervisor-directed deep acting related positively with supervisors' liking of subordinates. Liking and perceived competence, in turn, related positively with supervisors' willingness to recommend subordinates for organizational rewards. These findings highlight supervisor-directed emotional labor as an upward impression management strategy with both beneficial (deep acting) and detrimental (surface acting) implications, and they illustrate important mechanisms and a key contingency factor for these consequences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)384-402
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Organizational Behavior
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • deep acting
  • emotional labor
  • impression management
  • surface acting
  • upward influence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • General Psychology
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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