There are a lot of professions that require extreme efforts or specific abilities. Each profession, concurrently, is based on certain skills and knowledge whether it is intellectual or manual labor. Recently the new category has been introduced by sociologists, and it is known as “emotional labor.” There is a wide-spread opinion that nothing can be more exhausting than hard physical labor, but as the service sector goes on growing more and more scholars get warned about the tensions caused by working with people. For instance, Arlie Hochshild has estimated that some six out of 10 of those service jobs call for substantial amounts of emotional labor (“Feeling around the world”). These tensions are associated with emotional labor which has become the object of this research. As the term is rather new, there is no one comprehensive understanding of the phenomenon, and thus it is crucial to scrutinize the current studies on the subject. Further, the research will provide observations based on the survey. The latter was performed among the representatives of professions that are saturated with emotional dissonance (a shop assistant in a lingerie department, a children’s party entertainer, and a physician at the medical center) and intended to explore the current state of the problem. Besides, the data gathered through theoretical and empirical research will be used to work out specific recommendations on how the negative effects of emotional labor can be reduced or softened.
In Search of Definition
In a general sense, emotional labor (also known as “sentimental labour”, “labor of love”, “labor with a smile”, “comforting labor”) means regulation of emotions at the workplace for the sake of the organization’s image as well as a client’s or a customer’s well-being and satisfaction. As R. Abraham (229) states, emotional labor is “a form of emotional regulation wherein workers are expected to display certain emotions as part of their job, and to promote organizational goals.” The first comprehensive definition was proposed by Arlie Hochshild (qtd. in Wikipedia) who understood the phenomenon as the “management of feeling to create a publicly facial and bodily display” and “the effort to seem to feel and to try to really feel the “right” feeling for the job, and to try to induce the “right” feeling in certain others.” It means that like a uniform is put on the body, the smile, for example, should be put on the face to create an illusion of good mood, affability and other positive emotions. “When we enact a new role, we show ourselves to others in a different way,” Hochshild writes. Of course, initially it is required that a cashier, a waitress, a shop assistant or a nurse should really feel favor and enthusiasm towards clients and customers and their job on the whole. However, it goes without saying that a normal person cannot be always satisfied with all the conditions he or she is working in. Working with people is always full of surprises; you can never foresee all of their complaints and demands, and it is significant not to react negatively to the negative implications from others. But that is easy to say and not easy to do. To control your emotion, you need to take much effort and train much to know how to behave in this or that conflicting situation, apart from standard code of manners and gestures. As R. Abraham (232) explains, “emotional labor involves managing emotions so that they are consistent with organizational or occupational display rules, regardless of whether they are discrepant with internal feelings.” That is why it is also called emotional dissonance, as there is often a gap between what a person feels and thinks and what he or she is obliged to impose.
In addition to organization’s image and client’s overall satisfaction, emotional labor is worth of attention also because it has been detected by psychologists that emotions can be easily delivered from one person to another. It is regarded as “producing an emotional state in another state.” “One person’s emotions stir up another’s emotions: sometimes the enthusiasm of a boy is enough to inflame souls,” Battistina quotes Fourier (“What is emotional labor”). Accordingly, there are two types of emotional regulation. The first type is antecedent-focused. It means that it is used to modify the initial perception by changing the cognition of the situation. The second type is response-focused. It means that behavior is later modified by faking or amplifying emotional response.
In the meantime, in different professions there are different forms of acting out the emotion. These forms are usually motivated by the organization’s politics or the character of a job. The actors, for example, also portray feelings they may have never had, but they are to convince the audience they do feel and even make the audience feel the same. That form is called deep acting. In most of other professions surface acting is usually applied. It involves fake emotions enough not to disappoint the clients and customers or, as it is often in practice, at least to keep the job and not get fired. It seems worth to note that deep acting is usually associated with the “reduced stress and an increased sense of personal accomplishment” (Hochshild, “Feeling around the world”), while surface acting is in contrast increasing stress and depression as well as exhaustion and dissatisfaction with the job.
Coping with stress
Nevertheless, there is still no practice of rewarding higher levels of emotional labor with higher wages. The wage is conventionally depending on the cognitive demands. What is more, the solution of the problem of emotional burdens is mostly up to the personnel itself and out of the organization’s concerns. Therefore it is significant to take to account the experience of those who have found the way to cope with extra emotional labor. Thus, Robert P. Vecchio refers to the entertainers working at Disneyland. Obviously, there are a lot of visitors every day, and many of them come from the foreign countries. The employees are to treat them all with affection and fascination. “To cope with the stress caused by this high degree of self-control, employees in such jobs often find outlets for their true feelings,” Vecchio (263) stresses. These may be physical exercises, including both muscle-strengthening exercises and a kind of yoga helping to relax and cope with negative energy. Moreover, “at Disneyland, as well as in other public positions, employees cope with emotional labor by drawing together as cohesive, self-protecting units” (Vecchio 263). It means that the personnel support each other and never let each other to go out of control.
Survey on emotional labor
To gather the new data for investigating current situation in the sector of emotional labor, we have interviewed three representatives of emotionally saturated professions. These were a shop assistant in the lingerie department, a children’s party entertainer, and a physician at the medical center. First of all, they were asked about their satisfaction with their jobs and workplace environment. On a scale of 1-10, the shop assistant rated the satisfaction with the job by 9 and satisfaction with the workplace environment by 8. The entertainer’s rates were 7 and 5, respectively, whereas the physician’s rates were 10 and 8. Each of the interviewees is expected to present themselves in the appropriate ways and often face emotional stress because of professional obligations. The shop assistant is expected to show respect and readiness to help to each potential client. Besides, her task is to make the clients feel they look magnificent in this or that item, even if the client is a corpulent neglected senior woman. Even if the client is rude or ignorant, the shop assistant is to stay polite and look at the client with adoration. And even if a potential client has spent two hours trying on suites from the most exquisite collections and eventually has chosen none, the shop assistant should go on smiling and express hostility or even submission. In turn, the children’s party entertainer faces even more stress as children need even more attention and are much more sensitive to falsity. It is necessary to be full of energy and bristle with positive emotions, otherwise the party will be dull and the organization will lose profit. The girl we have interviewed likes her job as she enjoys playing with children, but she is not very satisfied with her environment, as her colleagues constantly share their negative emotions (including aggression and discontent) with her and it becomes harder for her to concentrate on holiday spirit. She wishes they would unite their efforts like the entertainer at Disneyland do. Finally, the doctor working at the medical center has reported that he is expected to show care and compassion, but he does not pay much attention to those requirements. He says he is a good professional and he is appreciated for his skill and experience, not for spurious smile as well as spurious tears on his face. He is sure that good attitude and empathy can never substitute professional intuition and knowledge. Therefore, as he concentrates on disease and not on the patient, he defends himself from emotional tension.
Conclusions and recommendations
In this way, we have conducted a piece of research on sociology of emotions. We have seen how people having care and service jobs turn out to be engaged in emotional labor. As they work with people, they are obliged to be always energetic, friendly, bristle with smile and good mood, no matter what they really feel inside. This disbalance between inner state and the image expected leads to stress, depression and after all, dissatisfaction with the job. Consequently, it is necessary to cope with the emotional burden, and if organization values the employees and truly cares about the image of the company of the institution, it would be rational for the managers to provide training for every person who is engaged in emotional labor. Besides, the personnel can look for appropriate outlets for negative energy by uniting their efforts in order to withstand stress together.
“Emotional labour.” Wikipedia. 21 Dec. 2011. Web. 9 Feb. 2012.
Abraham, R. “Emotional dissonance in organizations: Antecedents, consequences, and moderators.” Genetic, Social, and General Psychology Monographs 124.2 (1998): 229-246.
Battistina, Costantino. “What is Emotional Labor?” Thriving and Home, 3 Dec. 2011. Web. 9 Feb. 2012.
Hochschild, Arlie. “Feeling around the world.” Contexts 7.2 (2008): 80.
Vecchio, Robert P. Organizational behavior. Mason, OH: Thomson/South Western, 2006.
We remember children’s allergies, we design the shopping list, we know where the spare set of keys is. We multi-task. We know when we’re almost out of Q-tips, and plan on buying more. We are just better at remembering birthdays. We love catering to loved ones, and we make note of what they like to eat. We notice people’s health, and force friends and family to go see the doctor.
We listen to our partner’s woes, forgive them the absences, the forgetfulness, the one-track mindedness while we’re busy organizing a playdate for the kids. We applaud success when it comes: the grant that was received, the promotion. It was their doing, and ours in the background. Besides, if we work hard enough, we can succeed too: all we need to do is learn to lean in.
But what if, much like childcare and house keeping, the sum of this ongoing emotional management is yet another form of unpaid labor?
If you think this is pushing it, you would be wrong. The concept of emotional work and emotional labor – as repeated, taxing and under-acknowledged acts of gendered performance – has been a field of serious inquiry in the social sciences for decades.
It’s just taken the rest of us a while to catch on.
Jennifer Lena, a sociologist and professor of arts administration at Columbia University, stares at me from across the rocky wooden café table we’re sharing. Our two beers stand between us, ready for consumption.
Lena doesn’t drink, though. She just stares, looking vaguely disappointed and plain unchallenged.
“Your next story is on emotional labor as the next feminist frontier?” She repeats back at me. “But that is so sociology 101! I have been teaching undergraduate students about that for years.”
I take a sip of my beer and mumble, apologetic.
In all fairness, Lena’s friendly dismissal makes a strong point. The concept has been around for over 30 years; it was first introduced by Arlie Hochschild, an academic who formally coined the concept in her 1983 book The Managed Heart.
But only recently has it slowly started to re-emerge in online debates and pop culture. Jess Zimmerman, who wrote about emotional labor for The Toast, says she was floored by the amount of feedback she received – hundreds and hundreds of women commented in fervent agreement, thanking her for finally giving them a vocabulary for what they experienced.
Zimmerman framed emotional labor as something especially occurring in private, while academics first focused on it as a formal workplace issue. It is perhaps because more and more women are entering formerly male dominated professions that they’re noticing that extra emotional – say, “female type” – work is expected of them.
In a work context, emotional labor refers to the expectation that a worker should manipulate either her actual feelings or the appearance of her feelings in order to satisfy the perceived requirements of her job. Emotional labor also covers the requirement that a worker should modulate her feelings in order to influence the positive experience of a client or a colleague.
It also includes influencing office harmony, being pleasant, present but not too much, charming and tolerant and volunteering to do menial tasks (such as making coffee or printing documents).
Think of air hostesses, which was one of Hochschild’s main examples in 1983, having to cater to clients’ needs with an accommodating smile and a sympathetic ear, no matter how tired or disgusted they are by a vomiting child or a sleazy business class male customer.
Think too of the female politician, who is expected to be likable and fun, as well as intelligent and capable (if this rings a bell, it’s because Hillary Clinton’s aides are urging her to show more humor and heart).
Think of your morning Starbucks barista, who drew a smiley face on your cardboard cup of coffee this morning. Did she really want to go the extra mile today, or was it just part of the job expectation?
A few Stella sips in, Lena, the sociologist, throws me a bone.
“The way I think of emotional labor goes as follows: there are certain jobs where it’s a requirement, where there is no training provided, and where there’s a positive bias towards certain people – women – doing it. It’s also the kind of work that is denigrated by society at large.”
Research suggests that cumulatively, ongoing emotion work is exhausting but rarely acknowledged as a legitimate strain – and as such, is not reflected in wages.
I take on that role. That’s not my authentic self, but I have no choiceSara Thompson
The growth of low-wage, service industry jobs, where “service with a smile” is an expectation, has helped further entrench the phenomenon. Here, emotional work is not an added value; it is rather a requirement to get workers to the bare minimum.
In the US, where the federal tipped minimum wage is just $2.13 an hour, this is further accentuated. In those jobs, the employer is expecting emotional output, but is unwilling to pay for it. The duty to recognize emotion work is offloaded onto the client – who is then expectant of emotional fulfillment and satisfaction before providing the extra money.
This has nefarious consequences, especially for women. According to a study by ROC United, a worker center representing restaurant workers, women living off tips in states that have $2.13 minimum tipped wages are twice as likely to experience sexual harassment on the job compared to women in states with higher base wages.
Recent data suggests at least two-thirds of the low-wage industry is female, with half of these workers women of color.
Even in more prestigious industries, Jessica Collett, a professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame, explains, men and women may both be engaged in the same degree of emotional labor formally, but women are expected to provide extra emotional labor on the side.
For example, boardroom members – male and female – may have to schmooze clients to the same extent (a formal expectation that goes with their jobs) but women may be expected, on top of this, to contribute to office harmony by remembering colleagues’ birthdays, or making small chit-chat to staff. Male colleagues may do this too, but if they do it will be noticed as a plus (“isn’t he sweet and generous with his time?”).
This remark was echoed by a successful female human rights lawyer and friend of mine, who recently complained about the expectation that she should engage with office administrative staff every morning – something she was happy to do, but also felt she had to do. She needed to be seen as kind and competent in order to be respected, something her male colleague never bothered with.
Robin Simon, a sociology professor at Wake Forest University, turned the tables on herself and said that as a female professor, she was expected to be much more emotionally aware and available in and out of the classroom than her male colleagues.
“Students expect more emotion in women,” she says, with female professors not just expected to be chirpy in the classroom (especially with the rise in student-evaluation-related employment), but also sometimes doubling up as therapists and faculty-politics peacekeepers.
“I don’t really get it. What is emotional labor?” one of my male friends asked me, busying around his kitchen, making us lunch as we took a break from working together out of his Manhattan home.
As I tried to break it down for my lunchtime cook, I saw his brows furrow in concentration and then slowly make way for confusion. My friend, a successful software engineer in his mid-30s who had shown himself an ally to feminist causes in many of our past conversations, clearly thought this one was a step too far.
“Why is the fact that women provide emotional support work, though? What if people actually enjoy it? What if women are just better at doing that? Why do we have to make that something negative?”
His questions may have betrayed some exasperation with me. He had, in all fairness, prepared all of the meals we had shared during our New York friendship without ever complaining.
“Why do you feminists always have to make normal things into issues to be debated?” he continued.
For him, framing emotional work as anything but natural was seen as needlessly picky; it was making something big out of something that was simply best left alone.
My friend would probably never dare say: “Oh, but women are better cooks,” “Women are more talented cleaners” or “Women are better with children.” And yet, that he was suggesting that maybe some women “are just like that” – better at emotions – seemed to be the argument I was bumping into most frequently when I brought up the argument.
But this essentialist view doesn’t hold up academically.
In a 2005 seminal academic article on the subject using data on 355 employed and married parents, sociologist Rebecca Erickson found that not only was the brunt of emotion related work taken on by women at home, on top of child care and housework, it was also linked to gender construction, not sex.
“Part of what the research on this shows is that women’s increased propensity to engage in emotion work is not related to their sex but really their gender and the position that they have served in the family and in friendship groups, in society,” explains Collett.
A woman’s right to say ‘meh’: being sex positive won’t guarantee you an orgasm
This is a role we have simply become accustomed to: the woman as the emotion manager, throwing them into what Colleet calls a “second shift”.
In the bedroom too, women are expected to manage their male lovers’ emotions and sensitivities.
In a recent article in the Guardian, Alana Massey talks of the ongoing sexual inequality that exists in a post-pseudo-sexual liberation world. We may have slowly come to terms with the idea of women having sex to the degree they want, but sex positivism has by no means been followed by widespread conversations on the kind of sex women want and need in order to be fulfilled.
You might therefore also think of women feeling the need to fake orgasms as not just a consequence of a society that still views sexual intercourse in a male-centric way, but as a way for women to cater first and foremost to the male ego.
A study published in 2011, collecting data from 71 sexually active heterosexual women, found that while all women reported experiencing orgasm generally (mostly during foreplay), 79% of them faked orgasms during penetrative vaginal sex over 50% of the time (25% of surveyed women faked 90% of the time).
The study found that 66% those women faking (or making “copulatory vocalizations”, as the study put it) reported doing it in order to speed up their partner’s ejaculation. Even more to the point, 92% of the women reported they very strongly felt the technique boosted their partner’s self-esteem, which 87% of them said was why they were doing it in the first place.
Sara Thompson, a teacher turned financial litigation lawyer in her early 30s, is by all means and purposes in a very egalitarian relationship.
Her husband and partner of 10 years is a successful researcher, administrator and professor at an Ivy League university. Together they share a life filled with formal and informal arrangements that keep their relationship sane and seemingly equal from the outside.
But get Thompson speaking about the emotion work and every day extra effort in household organization that goes on as part of her romantic relationship, and some clear disparities start to emerge.
Through an upbringing where she was reprimanded when she took up too much space, she has been shaped into being someone who is constantly, chronically paying attention to the environment around her.
“I am a person today who is very aware and conscious of the loudness of my voice, the presence of my body in a public space, the comfort level of the people around me,” she explains.
Much of what she lists doing isn’t simply cleaning and maintenance, but it is closely related. It involves thought, and planning:
“Hanging stuff on the walls, putting photographs in picture frames, thinking about whether we should buy new sheets because the old ones are getting old, thinking about the time that we are going to have dinner, thinking about what we are going to have for dinner.”
It is not just that Thompson is cooking dinner, it is that she is planning dinner menus (what would he like to eat?), and thinking of what time to have it – all types of thoughtfulness that go unnoticed. “It really annoys me that I have to think about this. It’s not fair, it’s taxing on me”, she says.
Birth control planning is another issue. “I am the one who has to do the entire research and break it down for him. ‘How long does it take you to get pregnant after the IUD?’ he asks me. “Well, why wouldn’t you make time to make that research if you are thinking we will have kids?”
The same is valid for smaller details of everyday life. “He is looking for stuff. Have you seen my nail filer? He goes to the closet and says he cannot see it. It’s there. ‘Where do we keep the kitchen towels?’ He asks me time and time again. After the third or the fourth time, that shit needs to be learned.”
She continues: “It suggests to me that there is a detachment to home that I do not have the luxury of having. Because if I did, then our everyday life would be a nightmare. So I take on that role. That’s not my authentic self, but I have no choice,” she says.
So Thompson picks her battles (don’t we all?), and the question remains – if we are socialized from a young age to be this way, is it possible that we really are better at it, even if nature did not make us so? Should we just shut up and get on with it because the world would probably stop turning if we didn’t?
Or is it time we started forgetting the birthdays too, time we stopped falsely screaming ecstasy, and demanded adequate, formal remuneration for emotion work provided in the workplace as a skill?
Now that, right there, would probably be a shake-patriarchy-to-its-core revolution.