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Emotional Labour Essay

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.

Sharing emotions

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.

Works Cited

“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.