Putting on Your “Work Face” When You’re Having a Bad Day

When I worked in an office and was having a bad day, I coped by keeping to myself at my desk, and taking breaks to go outside and breathe. If something was bothering me, I tried to not let it show on my face. NPR’s The Salt asked some waiters how they cope with having a bad day while having to interact with customers and provide service with a smile:

“I’ve had plenty of bad days. I’ve had deaths in the family,” says Emily Nevius, a waitress at Longfellow Grill in Minneapolis. “But it’s work and you put your work face on.”

Similarly, Laura Abusager, who has waited tables in Bloomington, Ill., for the past five years, says she tries to put on a “poker face” when she’s dealing with issues in the rest of her life. She feels like her work doesn’t suffer, but she says her coworkers can always tell when things are going wrong at home or in relationships.

The customers, too. “I feel like I get better tips when I’m in a good mood,” Abusager says, “and when I’m in a bad mood, it’s like they can sense it.”

Restaurant owners and managers know servers who can be fun and flirty or at least chatty and attentive not only get better tips, but add to the quality of the dining out experience in a way that’s crucial to the bottom line.

The Salt ends with some advice from author Ann Patchett, who worked as a waitress in Nashville for some time:

“Even if you make mistakes — you forget to put in their orders or your put in the wrong order or you drop their drinks on their heads, which I did once — you can tell them it’s your first day. Even if you’ve been doing it a long time, if you tell them it’s your first day, they’ll give you a 50 percent tip.”

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16 Comments / Post A Comment

The alt text thingy on this one is great.

gyip (#4,192)

@This is my new user name OMG THERE IS ALT TEXT

my life is changed

When I waited tables, I actually loved working when things were rough. It didn’t matter how upset or angry or frustrated I was, interacting with the customers made me feel better and forget all of that crap for a while.

It’s harder to handle in an office, I think. I am grateful to have a co-worker who lets me vent rather endlessly via IM about how this time, I am really going to quit and go sell paint at Home Depot.

andnowlights (#2,902)

@xtinamartinson Our comments match! I was writing the exact same thing you were.

andnowlights (#2,902)

I honestly find it easier to keep it together in front of customers than keeping it together in an office environment. When I worked retail, I occasionally had the horrible customer, especially around the holidays (only had one make me cry, though), but I found it was easier for me to shake it off and deal with the next customer standing in front of me with a steady stream of people to take care of. In the office, I have time to sit and stew over what is bothering me and I find that it makes trying to deal with it way worse. Didn’t help that in my last office job there were a couple of times I could NOT keep it together while I was at work and one of my coworkers kept asking me what was wrong- the worst thing to ask someone who is upset, IMO.

allreb (#502)

@andnowlights Ditto. It’s been awhile since I was in a retail type position, but I was much better at putting on a cheerful work face when things were bad than I am at sitting at my desk and trying to keep my emotions in check. (Though when I have to talk to a coworker or go to a meeting, I turn on work face pretty similarly – snuffling at my desk a second ago? Whatever, it’s meeting time now!) I do wish my office had somewhere I could cry privately, though. I’ve had one too many awkward crying encounters with a well meaning coworker (read: I’ve had one), and sometimes a gal just needs to bawl privately.

wrappedupinbooks (#1,426)

One of my favorite parts about working in a law office is that it is 100% socially acceptable to be cranky, and I can sit in my little room and be left alone for the vast majority of the day. After years of customer-facing positions this seems like the height of luxury to me.

francesfrances (#1,522)

My trick is to Google corgis. In the past month, Googling dogs (mostly corgis) has become quite the habit. Whenever my boss chastises me, I look at corgi pictures and I instantly feel a calming rush. It’s similar to how I feel when I eat something delicious or sink into bed at the end of the day. It’s pretty weird, but it really, really works.

Beaks (#3,488)

@amyfrances So…I’m not the only one checking corgiaddict.com all the time?

francesfrances (#1,522)

@Beaks Nope! I look at it every day.

Caitlin with a C (#3,578)

Amen to all the previous things. I… still haven’t totally figured out how to keep it together in an office. If things are really over-the-top bad for me, I just take 20 minutes and hide in the bathroom on a different floor from my office or go outside for a walk or something.

I have zero pokerface. Zero.

Allison (#4,509)

@Caitlin with a C bathroom on a different floor is KEY

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

Office jobs are rough because they’re not performatiev in the same way that waiting tables can be. I find it’s easier to seem normal when i have some sort of interaction to get through. In an office everyone is usually bored and that boredom often leads them to sniff out any sort of emotion you might be feeling.

Derbel McDillet (#1,241)

I work in an office and definitely have my “work face.” I think two big factors for me are being really busy at work and working with clients in crisis (albeit over the phone). I usually don’t have time to stew.
Another factor is having zero desire to get involved with co-worker drama (arguing with coworkers about politics/religion/dietary preferences ruins my day). I tend to keep a pretty firm work life/personal life separation. Maybe to the point where it’s not entirely healthy.

Ms Mustard (#5,336)

Agreed with all the comments about being able to keep it together much easier in positions where social interaction is required…the requirement of constant surface-level social interaction is about the easiest way to distract yourself and take a mental break there is. It requires just the right amount of focus while remaining routine to keep you focused on the task at hand.

Did anybody else think the photo for this article was a missed opportunity for a reference to the scariest scene from Game of Thrones:

Ros and Littlefinger

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