Arlie Hochschild, a professor at The University of California, was the first to write about Emotional Labour in the mid-eighties. She described the emotional extent that some employees have to go to in certain industries. Eye contact, constant smiling, seemingly understanding and empathetic the whole time. This may sound familiar to some of you in the service industry.

Having operated a Health and Beauty Spa in the early nineties myself for five years, I maintained all of the above but was naively unaware of the potential exhaustion and burnout I was setting myself up for. In this customer orientated role a large part of the challenge came in having to hide my emotions and seemingly nod my head and perform for the ever demanding audience.

Roles that see emotional labour as high are that of Air flight attendants, Customer Service Roles, Counsellors, Hospitality, Retail, Nurses and Call Centres to name a few.

Implications of Emotional Labour on staff are high as they are asked to supress natural emotions, show emotion they really don’t feel and even create an apt emotion for any given circumstance. This can result in emotional conflict between your real emotions and those you are having to portray. Research has shown that hiding your emotions regularly leads to high stress levels.

In recognising this I am not suggesting for a minute that we no longer gauge social and work situations and behave inappropriately. By having an awareness of your emotions helps – you can learn to recognise potential negative effects whilst still continuing to provide high quality service to customers.

So, what can organisations do? Consider the effect and impact Emotional Labour has on your staff and their performance.

  1. Personal Development programs: Investing in the ability of staff to recognise and manage stress is an approach to offer support
  2. Introduce Effective Communication skills training: This helps staff build confidence and reduce the negative reactions to unpredictable situations
  3. Improve Emotional Resilience: The ability to recognise your emotions in an effective way is one of the steps towards reducing emotional labour.
  4. Introduce Emotional Evaluation into your appraisals: To incentivize the use of organisationally accepted conduct – reward and recognise the commitment to customers. How do staff deal with angry customers? Are they able to authentically show tolerance and patience?

What measures have you put in place to support this?

By using some of the suggestions above helps staff reconcile conflicting feelings and gives them the ability to perform to the levels of satisfaction required when dealing with customers. By minimizing the negative effects Emotional Labour, can lead to overall staff wellbeing.

Stay well,

Leigh McKay