Monday Musings: Emotional Labor vs. Well-Being

I read a book and some articles to save you time. But the ideas brought up were extremely thought provoking and I heartily recommend reading Daring Greatly by Brené Brown to learn about combating shame, if you’re so inclined, and the following articles to familiarize yourself with the concept of emotional labor.

  • Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
  • “Emotional labour: A significant interpersonal stressor” by Steven Kiely
  • “How companies force ‘emotional labor’ on low-wage workers” by Ned Resnikoff

What is emotional labor? All people, at some point or another, manage their feelings while “on the clock” to create a work-acceptable facial and bodily display - this is emotional labor. Some jobs require more emotional labor than others, for example: receptionists, therapists, educators, etc., because they must remain neutral or even falsely cheerful with customers/patients/coworkers/students at all times. Often it seems that this crucial and difficult task is not taken into account when classifying job difficulty, both in government and in private sector job classifications. 

"Emotional labor is 'management of feeling to create a publicly observable facial and bodily display … sold for a wage'” - Arlie Russell Hochschild

How does this unmentioned job duty affect people? Routinely suppressing or faking feelings causes an internal conflict that can lead to stress, anxiety and depression. Being on the front lines often means an employee is subjected to the brunt of other people's displeasure, whether it's because they are delivering bad news ("the doctor is running late") or because they are not seen as someone worth treating well (customer talking on cell phone when ordering coffee), the result is the same. Employees start to feel less than. Less than themselves. Less than worthy. Less than human. At some point the toll of emotional labor carries into employees' personal lives; they can no longer connect with other people or themselves.

How can managers, supervisors, job classifiers and co-workers acknowledge and help employees to deal with the stress caused by routinely suppressing one's feelings or faking feelings? Should employees be allowed more time for health and well being, with more time away from the front lines? Is time away enough?

"We are psychologically, emotional cognitively, and spiritually hardwired for connection, love, and belonging. Connection along with love and belonging (two expressions of connection), is why we are here, and it gives purpose and meaning to our lives." - Brené Brown

Imagine if companies provided all employees with paid time, a few hours a week, for proactive health and well being! People often think physical exercise but other wellness activities like meditation or therapy are crucial for whole health, especially if there is a combination of time for oneself and for connecting with others. Employers would retain and recruit happier, healthier and more productive employees if they incorporated these benefits to offset unpaid emotional labor. Additionally, an institutional wellness initiative is more impactful than an individual trying to find time in their personal life. Health education/information is beneficial, but individuals can only do so much with information. When institutions, supervisors, peers, etc. provide time and support, employees can actually use all the wellness information that is widely available. 

You might not have the power to make institutional changes but you likely have coworkers; how can you support them? 

Perhaps you need support or have been successful at asking for support: how did you ask for help? 

Is being vulnerable the opposite of emotional labor?

Share your ideas here, on our blog, or on our YogaQuest Facebook Page.

Other Quotes of Interest:

"SA [surface acting] has been linked to negative psychological and physical health outcomes including burnout in the form of increased emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation, reduced personal accomplishment, job dissatisfaction, depression, anxiety, psychosomatic  complaints, and intentions to resign."  - Steven Kiely

"When we teach or model to our children that vulnerability is dangerous and should be pushed away, we lead them directly into danger and disconnection." Brené Brown

"Due to the failure by traditional job evaluation systems to adequately measure and compensate for emotional labour in monetary  terms...organizations should consider using formal and informal rewards  and recognition as a symbol of appreciation for the emotional effort exerted by employees." - Steven Kiely

"I am suggesting that we stop dehumanizing people and start looking them in the eye when we speak to them." - Brené Brown

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Jennyann - Poet, Yoga Teacher, Expert Waffle Maker, Designer

Currently reading:
The Wave in the Mind by Ursula K. Le Guin
Mostly Void, Partially Stars: Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume 1 by Joseph Fink