ORCID Identifier(s)


Graduation Semester and Year




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Management



First Advisor

James Lavelle


The emotional labor literature is vast and complex. Overwhelmingly, most studies focus on surface acting and deep acting. Breaking character, expressing true, negative emotions to a customer, is understudied, despite evidence of occurring frequently. Despite conceptual work stating that breaking character produces negative outcomes, empirical work is scant. Further, the impact that breaking character has on employees is unknown. In summary, researchers know very little regarding what leads to breaking character, how employees feel about breaking character, and the aftermath of breaking character. Thus, the purpose of this dissertation is to explore the phenomenon of breaking character. First, I qualitatively explore breaking character through interviews with 19 flight attendants. Findings support previous work suggesting that customer mistreatment prompts breaking character. I also provide a comprehensive model of the act of breaking character from an employee perspective. Then, across two experiments I build upon my qualitative findings by empirically examining the phenomenon of breaking character from a third-party perspective. Specifically, I use a 2X3 factorial design in which customer mistreatment and employee emotional response are manipulated and customer intent to return and willingness to tip are assessed as dependent variables. Then, I test the mediating effects of empathy and moral anger in this relationship. In study three, I examine another 2 X 3 factorial design where I manipulate attribution of blame and employee emotional response to investigate whether third-party observer reactions are impacted by a sense of justified versus unjustified mistreatment. Implications and future research are discussed.


Emotional labor, Breaking character, Customer mistreatment, Third-party observers


Business | Business Administration, Management, and Operations


Degree granted by The University of Texas at Arlington