Emotional Labour Consequences

Keywords: emotional labour in the workplace

The rise of the service sector in the early 90’s has led to an increased demand for workers possessing more soft skills – emotional intelligence, people skills, human relation skills, optimism, friendliness as opposed to the hard ones. The increased demand for softer skills has resulted in many researchers examining the psychological impact on employees performing the kind of labour that involves emotional displays and managing feelings. However, Arlie Hochschild conducted her intensive examination of flight attendants and bill collectors as early as 1983 and established empirical evidence of the effects of “emotional labour” on employees in the service industry. Hochschild described emotional labour as “the management of feeling to create a publicly observable facial and bodily display” (Hochschild, 1983). Emotional labour is any service work where there is either face-to-face or voice-to-voice interaction of the employees and the customers like; retail, banking, hospitals, media, tourism, real estate, food and beverage, consulting, legal services and more. Hochschild, being the pioneer of this concept, has examined only the adverse impact of emotional labour at the workplace; however, there exists evidence that observes the positive features of it as well. During the course of this essay, we will have a precise look at some aspects of emotional labour to understand the concept better. Followed by this, will be a discussion of how emotional labour differs with respect to performance in different industries. Succeeding this will be an examination of the consequences of emotional labour for the organisation and employees. Finally, there will be an analysis of the fact whether emotional labour is beneficial to the organisation or the employees.

In the late twentieth century, Mills (1956) and Kanter (1977) tried to establish the social and psychological impact of the two trends of rise in women’s rates of employment; and shift from physical labour and industrial work to skilled performance of emotional labour. However, they failed to demonstrate any empirical evidence explaining the connection between the two. Later, Hochschild in her book The Managed Heart, coined the term “emotional labour” and provided explanation for the concept (Erickson & Ritter, 2001). Hochschild describes three main aspects of emotional labour – feeling rules, deep acting and surface acting. Feeling rules determine the correct emotional response to a situation. These rules are similar to a script, describing the correct response for work situations. They are specified by the organisation employing this labour to their service workers (Hochschild, 1983).This concept was further extended to be called “display rules” as they are emotions that are actually displayed as opposed to the ones that ought to be displayed (Ashforth & Humphrey, 1993) Further, Hochschild has divided emotional labour into surface and deep acting. Surface acting is expressing an emotion without feeling it. It involves simulating emotions not actually felt, through means of particular gestures, facial expressions, and voice modulations. In this way, the service worker feigns emotions that he/she does not actually feel. Deep acting, on the other hand, is defined in two ways, (a): exhorting feeling whereby one actively attempts to evoke or suppress an emotion and (b) trained imagination, whereby one actively invokes thoughts, images, and memories to induce the associated emotion (thinking of a cabin as their home for airhostesses) (Hochschild, 1983). An illustration of this is when a customer is upset during a service encounter, the employees remain calm and polite (feeling rules) and try to suppress their negative emotions while evoking positive ones (emotional acting: deep or surface) so that the customer cools down (Johnson, 2004). Another important extension to the concept of emotional labour is aesthetic labour proposed by Nickson and his colleagues (2000). This draws attention to the outward management of employees relating to their aural and visual display (Korczynski, 2002). This indeed is very important to please customers, and is in use in almost every service industry now; airlines, catering, tourism hospitality and the rest.

With the soaring competition in the service sector, firms have started differentiating themselves based on the quality of services offered. This has led to an increased demand for employees capable of delivering emotions at the workplace more efficiently to please the customer. Most of the advertisements in this sector, e.g. the food and beverage industry, advertise – hiring “smiling faces” (Steinberg & M.Figart, 1999). Every organisation in any sector, not just service, weighs all its activities based on the impact on the bottom-line. For service organisations, the increment in profit is gained by making the customer feel good and wanting to come back to them. This is done by employing people that are capable of managing their feelings to meet the service expectations of the customer. Not only will the satisfied customer come back, he/she would also, in some cases, spread a good word of mouth about the organisation thereby attracting more customers – leading to profit. As a Disneyland executive appropriately summarises “although we focus our attention on profit and loss (…) we cannot lose sight of the fact that this is a feeling business and we make our profits from that”.

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To fetch this advantage, organisations deploy a stringent selection and recruitment process. The organisation here functions like a robot – completely devoid of human feelings e.g., at Disneyland, while hiring new employees, the interview is for a “job at Disneyland”; the interviewee concerned is placed anywhere appropriate according to the management. This decision is made irrespective of the fact what the interviewee came in mind with (expected to be a guide, but placed as a pot scrubber) or what the person feels after being given a low rank. The factors used to determine the rank of the person are kept covert. One of the sweepers Ted, actually a pre-medical student as University of Southern California was assigned the job of a sweeper at Disneyland (Van Maanen, 1991). While the organisations place organisational interests at the top, the concerned employee is unmotivated and is subject to poor judgement by his peers because of his low rank, in turn feeling socially disconnected – contributes to stress

It is important to note that, it is not just positive emotions that a service worker needs to evoke. Sutton and Rafaeli (1988) suggest that displayed emotions are not only seen as the characteristic of an individual but need to be the attributes of the respective organisation as well. It was noticed that in convenience stores where customers are only concerned with the speed of transactions, being friendly did not have an impact on the sales volumes. In fact, being neutral helped the service workers influence the customers and make the transactions faster leading to better customer satisfaction (Sutton & Rafaeli, 1988). Similarly, in the case of bill collectors, a negative emotional facade is required to encourage debtors to make payments on time and increase the profitability of the bill collection agency. They have to convey a form of urgency and anger in their tone to get the payments irrespective of the fact whether they feel it or not (Sutton R. I., 1991). This clash between inner feelings and rules about expressed emotions was termed by Hochschild (1983) as “emotional dissonance” which has a significant consequence on employees that will be discussed later (Johnson, 2004).

An important organisational factor influencing emotional labour is the degree of autonomy that the service worker has in modifying the feeling rules according to his/her personal style, while dealing with customers. If the organisation grants more freedom to its service workers regarding their expression of emotions, it is less likely that the employees would suffer stress. However, in the interest of “customer is the king” organisations only seldom grant any freedom to employees (Korczynski, 2002).In fact, managers in most organisations, constantly monitor employees while they are at work to make sure that full compliance with the feeling rules is kept. Sutton (1991) in his study of bill collectors observed that the collectors followed a particular set of norms to deal with debtors, and their managers, more often than not, monitored them. Some contingent norms were created, if in case the situation with the debtor got out of control. Similarly, for flight attendants, it is difficult to adhere to rules, remain optimistic, and quiet towards impolite passengers (Hochschild, 1983). However, in the case of tour reps, the range of emotions to be displayed is immense because you have to be fun, yet sympathetic and sometimes stringent; but it was found that they enjoyed their jobs. This is credited to the amount of autonomy at the workplace. While tour reps are with holidaymakers, there are generally no managers to overlook their work and hence they feel the freedom to act the way they want (being responsible at the same time) making emotional labour easier (Guerrier & Adib, 2003).

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Managerial or supervisory support is vital in creating a positive working environment in service organisations too, just like in any other organisation. A positive managerial support reduces the amount of emotional labour and eases the effort. However, it has been noticed that, in service organisations managers mostly stick to the role of promoting organisational goals and monitoring work performance. In the study of violence in the front-line context of job centres in an employment service, it was found that, violence at the workplace was systematically denied by the management. If a job was successfully found for a customer, it resulted in positive emotions for both the parties involved but a repeated failure to find a job, resulted in a negative behaviour on the customers’ part and sometimes even frustration, anger and violence. It was also observed that the staff saw perceived customer violence as a systemic part of their everyday lives. Moreover, violence was not only ignored by the management but was also seen as bad customer handling on the part of the victim of violence. With the lack of any managerial support, the victim also contributed to the invisibility of violence by not recording such incidents, so as to keep a clean record in the organisation (Bishop, Korczynski, & Cohen, 2005). Threat to personal safety point here

A very important element of emotional labour, ignored by Hochschild, is when employees enjoy emotional labour. Ashforth and Humphrey (1993) suggest that at times, the service worker might not surface act or deep act emotions. This is possible because the worker, by virtue of his/her personality, might feel the flow of emotions genuinely, i.e. their work persona is an extension of their authentic self. This consistency of emotions with inner feelings is responsible for easing the amount of effort involved in emotional labour (Korczynski, 2002). In a study conducted by Gurrier and Adib in 2003 on tour reps, they found that most of the tour reps enjoyed their jobs. They saw “repping” as a temporary seasonal employment offering an opportunity to live abroad.

Consequences of emotional labour

Emotional labour requires displaying an enormous range of emotions; from optimism to sympathy, urgency to friendliness, frustration to empathy to anger and many more. It is also important to keep in mind here that, these emotions are displayed irrespective of how the employee is being treated by the customer. Displaying such a wide variety of emotions almost every day has a psychological impact on service workers – more negative than positive. In this section, we run through these consequences and analyse whether they are more harmful to the organisation or the employees.

The most common negative impact of emotional labour, also mentioned above, is emotional dissonance suggested by Hochschild (1983). This concept states the harmful effects of the clash between what a person actually feels and what he/she is ought to express (to meet external expectations). When a worker has genuinely felt emotions that contradict the emotions that need to be expressed externally, in compliance with the organisational policies, he/she is said to experience emotional dissonance. In the case of bill collectors, it was found that friendly debtors only seldom provoked feelings of irritation and anger; instead, they provoked feeling of sympathy amongst the collectors. In this case, the collectors struggled to express irritation towards the debtors and were encouraged to use techniques of cognitive appraisal by the managers. For example, the collectors were asked to think of the debtors impersonally, and consider displayed irritation to be helpful for the debtors in the long run (Sutton R. I., 1991).

In order to address emotional dissonance, employees surface act or deep act. While surface acting, as mentioned above, involves feigning emotions needed to satisfy the customer; deep acting involves genuinely feeling those emotions in order to induce them and help promote organisational goals. It has been found that workers deploying surface acting are more likely to experience stress than workers who use deep acting techniques. The reason for this has been that constant faking of emotions on the part of surface actor invites a massive clash of inner feelings end expressed emotions, ultimately leading to burnouts. On the other hand, it has been observed that deep actors, eventually start identifying with their role in the organisation which leads to effortless emotional labour (Ashforth & Humphrey, 1993). Another implication of emotional labour; surface, and deep acting is job satisfaction. The relationship between job satisfaction and emotional acting could be negative or positive depending on the type of acting undertaken. Surface acting can lead to job dissatisfaction because of feeling insincere and inauthentic towards ones work demands. Moreover, it is proposed that surface acting for a long duration in ones career leads to an alienation of the worker from his/her authentic self. Hochschild (1983) argues that when service workers are coerced into portraying (whilst feeling) a particular emotion, they fail to demonstrate or know what they are actually feeling (Guerrier & Adib, 2003). However, deep acting is accredited to job satisfaction, because it is understood that the employee tries to connect more with the job while delivering the expected performance, leading to job satisfaction (Johnson, 2004).

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Service employees also experience threat to personal safety, especially in professions that involve face-to-face interaction with the employees. As mentioned above, in the study of an employment service it was found that customers got violent when their expectations were not fulfilled. In the same study, it was mentioned, that Sosteric (1996) found that employees of a nightclub had to tolerate objectionable behaviour (sometimes even sexual harassment) from the customers to address the customer sovereignty policy followed at the workplace (Bishop et al, 2005). This also has a big contribution in the stress experienced by the service workers as they are constantly under the pressure of threat and at times, the management fails to acknowledge this situation to promote the organisational goals.

Emotional labour also calls for gender bias and inequality, demonstrating a clear distinction between jobs that are suitable for females (like flight attendants) and for men (bill collectors). However, it is understood that female service workers are more capable of delivering emotions efficiently by virtue of their being female i.e. they are socialized in a way which makes it easier for them to fulfil the emotional demands of customers. Furthermore, this is also considered to be a reason for women being more satisfied than men in jobs demanding emotional labour. Women are considered to connect well with customers while displaying deep acting and leaving the customer satisfied .

On the upside, effective emotional labour can lead to task effectiveness and produce good results for the organisation adding to the bottom line. Service workers, eventually develop emotional intelligence that leads to their managing emotions at the workplace more comfortably and effectively without the work from their professional space spilling into their personal domain. Emotional intelligence leads to acquiring the ability to regulate emotions to promote emotional and intellectual growth; the ability to access and generate emotions when they facilitate cognition, which ultimately leads to job satisfaction (Salovey et al, 2000). Development of emotional intelligence moderates the effect of emotional labour and eases the amount of effort required to please the customers (Johnson, 2004).

Moreover, some service workers also enjoy their work, which points to job satisfaction and constructive organisational results. Tour reps ,in the study by Guerrier and Amel (2003), liked their work and at times even organised “party nights” for holiday makers when they were not supposed to work. They did not get paid for these party nights but for the tour reps ,it promoted organisational interests and led to economic benefit (Guerrier & Adib, 2003). Hochschild (1983) found that some flight attendants also claimed that they enjoyed their work with socially embedded customers rather than customers who made only work related interactions (Korczynski, 2002).

Negatives – Emotive dissonance, Emotional exhaustion – stress burnouts, Alienation from the self – insincerity, gender inequality – flights, nursing, importance of co-worker support, Threat to personal safety – violence study!

Positives – Task effectiveness due to emotional intelligence, sometimes enjoy work – leisure work positives outweigh negatives, promotion of organisational goals


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