Marketing research suggests frontline employees who must enforce rules with customers suffer significant stress

New research from William Northington, an assistant professor of marketing and supply chain management at Appalachian State University, suggests that, during the pandemic, frontline employees (FLEs) are experiencing elevated occupational stress — thanks to misbehaving customers.

Dr. Northington and his colleagues — Stephanie Gillison of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Sharon Beatty of the University of Alabama, and Shiri Vivek of Eastern Michigan University — surveyed FLEs to assess their stress during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The researchers considered interactions with customers as well as expectations from their employers.

The results indicate that several customer misbehaviors, such as not following rules and being rude, produced significant occupational stress. Further, rule-enforcement incidents translated to heightened negativity for FLEs due to emotional contagion.

Read the research: I don't want to be a rule enforcer during the COVID-19 pandemic: Frontline employees' plight.

Given the visibility in customer misbehavior and the resulting strain, frustration and anger on frontline employees, the study may help determine appropriate practices to protect and retain FLEs in the retail and service sectors.

About Faculty Research in the Walker College of Business

Walker College of Business faculty produce and disseminate extensive research through both academic and professional communities. In the last five years, faculty members have published approximately 400 peer-reviewed academic journal articles, 130 conference proceedings and made more than 400 conference and professional presentations in 170 different venues. In total, the faculty has produced more than 700 individual intellectual contributions in basic discovery research, more than 400 contributions in applied or integrative research and 240 contributions in teaching and learning research. For more information, visit

About the Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management

At Appalachian State University, students in the Walker College of Business’ Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management learn to drive industry initiatives that develop customer satisfaction and retention, contribute to company profits and build connections with suppliers, distributors and the community. Students majoring in marketing may select a concentration in general marketing, digital marketing or sales. Students majoring in supply chain management (SCM) learn about logistics, operations, strategic sourcing, process improvement strategies and supply chain technologies, enabling them to compete in the global marketplace and help future employers reduce costs, improve profits and expand their markets. Learn more at

Marketing research suggests frontline employees who must enforce rules with customers suffer significant stress
Published: Aug 16, 2021 9:42am