Differences in Emotional Labor Across Cultures: A Comparison of Chinese and U.S. Service Workers

Joseph A. Allen, James M. Diefendorff, Yufeng Ma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


Purpose: In the global economy, the need for understanding cross-cultural differences and the customer service-related processes involved in emotional labor is evident. The current study attempts to examine this issue by developing and testing hypotheses pertaining to cross-cultural differences between U.S. and Chinese service workers on the levels of display rule perceptions, emotion regulation, and burnout (i.e., emotional exhaustion, personal accomplishment, and depersonalization) as well as the relationships among these variables. Design/Methodology/Approach: Data was collected from service workers in the U.S. (n = 280) and China (n = 231). We tested for measurement differences, mean differences, and differences in the relationships among emotional labor variables between the two samples using a variety of analyses. Findings: It was found that the relatively robust sequence of display rules to surface acting to burnout was observed in a U.S. sample but was not observed in a Chinese sample, with some relationships being significantly weaker in the Chinese sample (e.g., surface acting to burnout dimensions) and others exhibiting relationships with the opposite sign (e.g., display rules were negatively related to surface acting in the Chinese sample). Implications: The results of this study suggest that many of the relationships among emotional labor variables vary as a function of the cultural context under consideration. Originality/Value: This is the first study to directly compare emotional labor across samples from Eastern and Western cultures. Additionally, this study begins to answer questions concerning why models of emotional labor generated in a Western culture may not apply in other cultures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)21-35
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Business and Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2014


  • Affectivity
  • Cultural differences
  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Emotional labor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Business, Management and Accounting(all)
  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychology(all)


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