In this series of article reviews, we will dissect the latest research papers important to mental health education and advocacy.

July 23, 2023 – 5 min read

Today, we will be reviewing the paper How do generalized reciprocity and negative reciprocity influence employees’ task performance differently? the mediating role of social exchange and the moderating role of emotional labor by Nan ZhuYuxin LiuJianwei ZhangJamshed RazaYueling Cai.

Introduction to Article

This article was written in 2023 by Zhu, et al. They focus on the effects of two kinds of employer-employee relationships, generalized reciprocity (where one party benefits the other without expecting the favor to be returned) and negative reciprocity (where one party attempts to achieve their self-interest by harming the other party’s self-interest), on task performance. The authors also wanted to study the role social exchange and deep and surface acting play in this phenomenon. Social exchange is the theory that people make cost-benefit analyses in everyday interactions. These cost-benefit analyses determine whether social relationships are maintained. Deep acting is when individuals authentically manage their emotions to achieve a desired emotional state. This goes beyond masking one’s feelings; it instead involves a genuine effort to internalize the feelings associated with the ideal emotional state. Surface acting is when one merely represses emotions to pretend they are in a desired emotional state.  The authors wrote this article in response to the lack of consensus on these concepts’ effects on each other.


The authors selected five enterprises with 9,000 employees and sent out 697 questionnaires, receiving 584 valid responses. The authors divided the questionnaire into three parts (labeled as generalized and negative reciprocity; deep and surface acting; social exchange, task performance, and demographic variables). The authors interpreted employee response using a variety of scales: a reciprocity scale, a task performance scale, a social exchange scale, and a deep acting/surface acting scale). Using these results, the authors conducted statistical analysis to determine the relationship between the variables.


The authors found that generalized reciprocity was positively associated with task performance, and negative reciprocity was negatively associated with task performance. Additionally, the positive relationship between generalized reciprocity and social exchange was strongest when employees had high levels of deep acting and weakest when there were high levels of surface acting. The chilling effect of negative reciprocity on social exchange was strongest with higher levels of surface acting and weakest with higher levels of deep acting.

However, we want to draw attention to the fact that the overwhelming majority of the questionnaire respondents had bachelor’s degrees, and those with lower and higher educational attainment were underrepresented in the study. Additionally, since employee answers are self-recorded, there is no way for the authors to determine how truthful and accurate the employees’ answers are.

ARE U Takeaways

  • This paper is relevant to managers and business owners because it displays the importance of relationships in the workplace.
  • A business that does not pursue its employees’ best interest and wants to squeeze every last bit of productivity out of an employee while not advocating for their interest will see job performance and social relationships suffer.
  • This article is a good reminder that relations with employees are a two-way street, not just one part doing the bidding of another.


Zhu, N., Liu, Y., Zhang, J., Raza, J., & Cai, Y. (2021). How do generalized reciprocity and negative reciprocity influence employees’ task performance differently? the mediating role of Social Exchange and the moderating role of emotional labor. The Journal of Social Psychology, 163(5), 605–622.