The extent to which employees in the service industry are able to fulfil expressive display needs at work is paramount in service performance (Grandey 2003). Firms will only succeed in delivering good service and maintaining positive customer relationships when their employees on the front line can keep their emotions in check and express positive affect in service interactions (Liu, Kwan & Chiu 2014).
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Obviously, employees who are able to fulfil the requirements will perform well compared to those who cannot. However, beyond the visible behaviour and abilities lay important employee personality, organizational factors, customer behaviour factors, and job performance evaluation and testing methods that play a direct or an indirect role in influencing negative or positive job performance of service employees.
Kotler et al. (2009) explained that employees play an important role in building a company’s reputation. They do this because when there is no physical product sold by a company, customers will rely on the impression they get from the employees to form an opinion of the company. Understanding that employees in the service offering companies are also brand ambassadors, marketers, and customer relations persons of the company informs various company strategies on improving performance. There are a number of factors that organizations must provide to ensure employees in this case perform optimally (Kotler et al. 2009).
In most cases the absence of a positive influencing factor will result in less than optimal performance, while in other cases it is actually the presence of a strong negative factor that negates the positive influence of other factors and causes sub-par job performance. The following section reviews both positive and negative factors and their influences on job performance in service industries.
Positive factors and negative factors
Research on service contact workers and general workers’ job performance influencing factors has been carried out for more than a decade. However, a majority of the research is in physical contact, such as sales representatives and convenience store clerks. Meanwhile, most of the business community is moving toward e-commerce and customers are relying more on information and communication technology as their first medium for interacting with companies. It is important to also look into service contact employee job performance in occupations that allow telecommuting.
Yi, Nataraajan and Gong (2011) examined the consequences of employee performance when an employee receives little attention from customers. The research was part of a wider understanding and awareness creation of the role of customer behaviours in influencing service delivery. According to the research by Yi, Nataraajan and Gong (2011), customer behaviour may be positive, as in the case with citizenship behaviour, or it may be negative.
Either way, it will still influence employee satisfaction, although the actual level of influence will vary with the intensity of behaviour expression. This goes a long way to add to the existing theories that put customer behaviour as an important factor for service co-creation. The key fact to note is that customers are playing a part in influencing how employees perform their duties, although the effect is not direct and certain. First, customers affect the satisfaction of employees. It is from the job satisfaction that one can come up with a verdict on employee job performance effect, which would link back to specific customer behaviours (Yi, Nataraajan & Gong 2011).
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Service providers have a number of motivations for managing their presentation of emotions in service encounters. For example, where they seek to please customers, they have to comply with employer prescribed job expectations on emotional expression (Julian 2008). Employees have to hide their actual feelings and put on an artificial reaction or action that allows them to perform their job effectively. With sufficient psychological empowerment, a majority of employees are able to display the right attitude and behaviour towards customers (Spreitzer 1995). From this understanding, one can tell that the ability of an employee to express or suppress a number of feelings will influence the given employee’s job performance significantly, as evaluated by an organization’s management.
Sectors that allow employees to also act as customers are many, with the main ones being retail stores, restaurants, manufacturing firms, and financial institutions (Dabholkar & Abston 2008). These sectors allow employees to change roles and see what kind of service they are getting from their respective companies, just as ordinary customers do (Gianfranco 2013). The ability and option give employees a chance to model their customer related behaviour to the correct guidelines of their companies and their expectations as customers, which should eventually lead to improved job performance by the employees.
The role of employees as customers is critical to organizational performance, just as it is critical to individual employee performance. After recognizing that contact employees have a dual role, respective organizations need to support the dual existence with appropriate organizational factors and undertake internal marketing. This intervention communicates the organization’s intention to make employees feel as part of it when acting in either of their dual roles. It also lays the foundation for building long term relationships, which would then promote both employee and customer citizenship behaviours (Dabholkar & Abston 2008).
Better treatment of employees by firms that recognize the dual nature yields better employee patronage (Koster, de Grip & Fouarge 2011). Eventually, there is a cycle of success that develops, where the implementation of the internal market yields benefits to the organization and the employee job performance, which affect contact interactions of employees and outside customers, as well as other employee-customers (Dabholkar & Abston 2008).
The key element to promoting the practice is consistency, so that job satisfaction, which ends up influencing job performance, improves (Koster, de Grip & Fouarge 2011). As such, the presence of abusive supervision will act as a negative influencing factor (Tepper 2000). Initial interventions may not show up at the company’s bottom line, but continued focus on both employee performance and internal marketing through non-financial marketing like recognition, motivation, and empowerment will have a powerful positive effect on job satisfaction over the long-term because of the multiplying effect of the relationship growth (Dabholkar & Abston 2008).
In a typical workplace, the motivation for employees can be influenced by status striving instances or accomplishment striving instances, which relate to specific personality types. The former matches extraversion, while the latter relates most with conscientiousness. The nature of motivation determines the influence on job performance, with status striving motivation having a direct effect, while accomplishment striving to show an indirect effect usually linked to the former.
However, the claim of influence superiority is often disputed by the fact that most customer-contact jobs already favour extraversion and would show a remarkable improvement in job performance when the extent of extraversion is the subject of study. Nevertheless, with ICT allowing various forms of customer-employee contact to happen other than direct sales and marketing, the effects of other personality types on motivation and their relationship to job performance could be examined.
Service industries face a challenge of getting service employees who can serve customers well, despite the decrease support and resource provision by their employers. Service worker divisions are supposed to deliver favourable results, even when they are the main victims of resource cuts and downsizing (Harris et al. 2006). These organizational constraints cause stressful environments within organizations and affect employees who are in contact with customers. Given that job resourcefulness, sometimes promoted by internal marketing, is beneficial to overall work performance, it is only logical that companies would concentrate their efforts on reducing role stressors and increasing service employee resourcefulness to generate better job satisfaction and performance (Dabholkar & Abston 2008).
On the other hand, personality has already been shown to affect employees’ resourcefulness and job performance as a service worker significantly, partly due to the nature and demands of service work. However, even with the right environment and support, the lack of a proper assignment of jobs and the existence of role conflict force service employees to divert their focus from work to non-core job duties. A consequence of the diversion is a decrease in job performance, as measured by various employee evaluation methods (Harris et al. 2006).
Harris et al. (2006) already asserted that the combination of role stressors, personality, and environmental factors have a major influence on behaviour. Therefore, the management of these factors will definitely affect perceived and actual job performance in service work settings. However, positive outcomes only arise when the management of one factor does not have antagonistic effects on the realization or management of other factors named above.
An important point here is that much of the outcome considered in such situations comes from the examination of interpersonal factors influencing job resourcefulness and customer orientation. It does not touch on organizational culture, which other researchers have studied to find its role in job performance. Nevertheless, the discussion is still valid in its present form because it yields a better understanding of how the various motivating factors interact at an individual employee level.
Overall, the management needs to balance its focus on role stressors, which include ambiguity and conflict of roles, effect on job resourcefulness, and the focus on job resourcefulness on job satisfaction. Biased focus on any causes less than optimal results, which may misinform future strategy on organizational performance (Harris et al. 2006).
Testing and evaluation are common ways used to determine and classify high-performing service employees (Licita et al. 2003). With personality tests, employers have a credible tool for making promotion, training and employment decisions concerning employees. Five-factor personality test models are the most popular for their comprehensive ability and ease of application.
In checking motivation at work, the five-factor model correlates with job satisfaction of employees to indicate personality traits that will improve satisfaction. The traits also find use in cases where employees consciously engage in acts that put the survival of the organization in the balance (Licita et al. 2003). Criminal acts like stealing and harassment are common examples. Still personalities help to identify potential deviants. For example, interpersonal deviance expressed by employees would be a risk factor to consider. While these features of personality trait point to a possible behaviour and outcome of employee engagement with work duties, they do not prescribe actual behaviour of what will take place (Chenet, Tynan & Money 2000).
As for job performance, conscientiousness is a key predictor of job performance. The other four factors; namely, openness to experience, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism still affect employee behaviour, but only to a lesser extent do they directly relate to job performance. Research by Licita et al. (2003) confirmed that looking at internal motivation can help predict self-reported performance in banking, restaurant, and health care industries. The researchers also confirmed that relying on the five-factor tests only has limitations. The authors went on to add that a full hierarchical model can account for more variance in outcome variables than a single five-factor model (Licita et al. 2003).
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In service industries, the satisfaction of every customer encounter is a goal. While personality will play a role in employee and organizational role fit, its effect will not be fully visible as job resourcefulness acts as a buffer to role stressors, burnout symptoms, and front line employee service recovery performance (Ashill et al. 2009). Organizations have gone ahead and implemented high performance work systems (HPWS) to improve performance, but research by Chang and Chen (2011) shows that on an individual employee basis, the HPWS will work better when human capital and affective commitment are also available. This is a confirmation of the indirect influence of HPWS on employee job performance. The findings are relevant to this paper, given that the research by Chang and Chen (2011) was conducted in the service industry.
The rationale supported by the research is that when companies invest in high commitment work systems, they assist in employee human capital development, which ends up yielding excellent employee performance as employees increasingly become committed. It is the same thing with the argument presented above on internal marketing and improvement of job resourcefulness as elements that contribute to job satisfaction and eventually better job performance among service employees. The observation is clear in small professional service companies that rely much on front-line employees to deliver service in unique and valuable ways for the firm (Chang & Chen 2011).
Research by Liu, Kwan and Chiu (2014) shows that customer sexual harassment indeed has a negative effect on service employee job performance. It would then be interesting to find out how incidences of actual sexual harassment could influence job performance in instances where organizations are already providing and implementing all other positive practices for performance. Whether it is HPWS or customer orientation, as promoted by Brown et al. (2002), actual performance will rely on the combination of many factors and the influencing power of each.
For example, Liu, Kwan and Chiu (2014) showed that though sexual harassment by customers is a negative factor, its actual influence is mediated by difficulties that firms experience in implementing display rules. Here, the key point is not that there is reduced negativity in customer sexual harassment effects, but the inadequacy of affirming employee display rules hampers effective measurement of job performance. Essentially, this this hinders judgment of the actual impact of the negative factor.
Employee empowerment in the workplace will assist in improving an individual employee’s performance. However, the aspect of increasing job resourcefulness at the workplace is only relational and it can only work when other notable behaviour influencing factors and external environmental variables are favourable for excellence in employee work performance. Most of the research on service employee productivity and other academic material focus on the practical and theoretical perspectives of overall organizational performance. In this paper, the spotlight has been specific employee performance in light of various personal and organizational variables that affect production, both directly and indirectly.
In this regard, the paper shows that a majority of factors is neither negative nor positive, but their direct or indirect effect can readily be determined and observed in resultant employee behaviour. Issues such as job resourcefulness, internal organization, marketing to employees as customers, personalities, supervision, customer orientation programs, or strategies and actual customer behaviour towards employees are the main factors that will determine how capable an employee will be able to display the right behaviour. In addition, this paper also shows that testing methods used to evaluate employee performance and expression of rules for customer engagement by the organization also determine the extent to which employee job performance could be determined.
In the end, negative factors, such as customer harassment of employees or the lack of adequate job resourcefulness and poor employee personality and job needs fit can exist. However, the management can still miss out on opportunities to work on employee job performance, not because they do not recognize these negatives, but because performance measures are not congruent with the needs and capabilities of employees and they are not explicitly defined. This important confirmation shows that factors affecting service workers’ performance directly and indirectly, such as psychological empowerment, commitment, co-operation and abusive supervision, are all relative. Their review or study must always be inclusive of the individual employee internal and external environment, as well as the job and organizational context.
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