The Effect of Emotional Labour to Employees Behavior at Work

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Emotional labour can be defined as the control of behavior by an individual in order to display more socially accepted emotions (Chu, 2002). In this case, an individual tries hard to suppress certain emotions that might not be taken kindly by the people he relates to and these emotions have to conform to certain defined standards of social norms. Emotional labour was first coined by Arlie Hochschild in her book titled ‘The managed Heart’. According to Hochschild, people are known to take control of their emotions not only in their work life but also personal life (Hochschild, 1983). Emotional labour is an integral part in human behavior since it has been established that at some point in life, human beings have to change the manner in which they behave.This could be in terms of their body language, emotions or verbal cues in order for them to conform to the set accepted social norms.

Many organizations expect their employees to behave in certain ways while at work, be it in the way they dress, relate to customers or react to certain situations. These organizations do this with the objective of attracting and retaining customers. Most of the organizations that insist on their employees to adopt certain behaviors belong in the service industry (KTEC, 2005). In this industry, the employees are usually in direct and constant contact with the customers and hence the need for them to do what it takes to please them to ensure continued business. All successful organizations in the service industry have depended on emotional labour at some point in their day to day operation.

There exist two kinds of emotional labour which have been well described by Hochschild. These include; Emotional labour expressed on the surface and deep acting. Most employees who are forced to behave in certain ways adopt the surface acting in which they fake the emotions they display to the customers. They display particular emotions that they actually do not feel deep within themselves and this is bound to invoke very serious side effects. In most cases negative emotions such as sadness, irritation, impatience, anger, pity, just to mention but a few are masked. These are usually replaced by fake happier emotions such as, patience, happiness, care, and excitement. This takes a lot of emotional strength of the employees that could result in emotional burn-out. Deep acting on the other hand, involves an individual relieving emotion from the past to be able to experience the real emotion that is required of him at a particular moment (Hochschild, 1983). For example, a doctor taking care of a wound with gangrene should try not to show disgust but instead try picturing himself in the place of the patient or even imagine that the patient is his child. This would then invoke feeling of care to replace the feeling of disgust.

Most organizations have set social norms to which employees have to conform to. Therefore, employees need to learn about these social norms and know how to control their emotions in order to conform to them. This could be in the form of written rules and regulations or guidelines that could be used as a benchmark for judging the supposedly right response. However, most feeling rules deal with manners and are often unwritten. In her book ‘The Managed Heart’ Hochschild has a detailed description of a set of ‘feeling rules’ also referred to as ‘display rules’ (Ashforth & Humphrey, 1983) which determine the right emotional response for a particular situation ( Hochschild, 1983) in the quest to understand emotional labour better.

For example, McDonalds encourage their employees to display feelings of enthusiasm, sincerity, confidence and a sense of humor (Mann, 2004). Feeling rules have also been established to have a link with the civilization culture. For instance, when people of different cultures relate, they guide the way they do this with their respective society’s standards but there is still a risk of them offending one another by the way the disparity in their behavior is displayed. Despite this, the concept of feeling rules does not change. For instance, employees in the hotel industry are usually courteous and polite irrespective of the treatment they receive from their customers. In most service transactions, employees are expected to be polite and courteous towards the customer when they become unnecessarily unhappy. In this kind of a situation, an employee is bound to become irritable and upset but then for the sake of retaining a customer, he opts to remain calm and display feelings of compassion and patience. The feeling rules act as guidance to employees and they are there to ensure that an employee knows the significance of being courteous to a customer at all times. These rules help one to suppress negative emotions and in turn substitute these with positive emotions. While a customer is always out to get a satisfactory service, an employee also has the task of operating within a set of feeling rules. Some of the feeling rules that an employees is expected to operate within include; Courtesy, understanding, approachable, and look trustworthy (Ashforth & Humphrey, 1993).

Based on the moods of the customers, these feeling rules expectations are bound to change from time to time. In a situation where a customer expects unexceptionally good service, there is a high possibility that this would not be met and would live him unsatisfied even though an employee had the correct feeling rules. For instance, frankness is one of the good services patients expect of a doctor. There times when this would not go down well with a patient especially when a diagnosis that has been made of them is health threatening.

Doctors are expected to have ‘bedside manners’ which include; friendliness, compassion, courtesy, frankness, politeness, just to mention but a few. By having these, then a doctor is judged to be capable of giving good service. Psychiatrists, counselors are subjects of a high expectation for good service. Depending on the age of the patient, this group of people is expected to vary the way they behave (Ashkanasy, 2001) For instance, a doctor would be expected to be more relaxed and even crack jokes with a child patient to put them at ease while on the other hand, this would not be the same when dealing with patients in their sixties.

Airline attendants are expected to be courteous and nice to their customers regardless of whether the customers reciprocate or not. Under normal circumstances, an employee would easily get irritated when dealing with an impatient customer. But then, the industry requires them to mask this emotion and instead act all understanding and even empathize with the customers. Similarly, call centre operators are expected to be extra courteous and patient with their customers. Any negative emotions are expected to be suppressed and instead masked with more positive ones.

Using emotional labour has its own implications and dilemma. Continually trying to suppress ones’ emotional feelings could have very serious negative side effects such as emotional burn out. However, emotional labour when applied correctly like deep acting, it could be very rewarding and could lead to job satisfaction. Employees are always forced to be nice to customers regardless of the treatment they receive from them and some of the treatment they are forced to bear could have severe effect on them. According to Sandi Mann, employees could easily get stressed if they managed their emotions in such a manner (Mann, 2004). The result of the stress could be contracting serious health problems such as heart disease, coronary thrombosis, Hypertension or even worsen cancer.

Most employees are forced to surface act because of the difficulty of being nice at all times at work (Persaud, 2004). The result is emotional burnout caused by the employees detaching themselves from their own emotions. This could be dangerous to the work performance of the employees. For instance, doctors who have had emotional burnout are likely to stop giving good care to their patients which constitutes the most important part of their work (Persaud, 2004). An airline attendant suffering from emotional burnout could easily interfere with the comfort of passengers during their flight. This is because emotional labour constitutes a very crucial part of their job. An airline attendant is the person who is in most contact with customers and has to strive to be courteous to the passengers regardless of the reaction he gets from them and this is a recipe for emotional burnout (Hochschild, 1983). In most cases emotional burnout makes a person lose effectiveness in duty performance which leads to dissatisfaction in the quality of a completed duty. To a greater extent, emotional burnout could make an employee leave or lose his job by not being able to mask their true negative emotions (Ashforth &Humphrey, 1983). Employers should try to make their employees understand the importance of harnessing the benefits of emotional labor which could be very rewarding in the long run (Persaud, 2004).

Organizations are normally called upon to make use of their Human resource management in preventing employees from suffering from the negative effects associated with emotional labour. Depending on the situation, different kinds of methods are normally advocated for breaking the affected employees’ emotional cycle. One of the ways of dealing with this problem is encouraging deep acting which is beneficial to employees and discouraging surface acting in workplaces. It has been established that an employee who has stayed long in the same employment is likely to act than one who has only been in the same employment for a short period of time (Ashforth &Humphrey, 1993). For instance, an employee could fake interest in what a customer is saying and if a customer detects this, then the relationship between the customer and the employee could be ruined, harming the business in the process. Employees could be trained to detect the signs of emotional burnout and try preventing it before it is too late.

Different workplaces have different ways of dealing with emotional labour. For instance, McDonalds has established a manual guide which directs its employees on the qualities and behaviors they should display at all times when handling a service transaction (Mann, 2004). This however is difficult to find in other small business enterprises. Most small business enterprises depend on feeling rules which an employee is likely to have gained before getting involved with the business and the feeling rules that he would have learnt on job. Therefore, it is really important for employers to recruit employees with desirable qualities to try to minimize surface acting that could lead to emotional burnout.

Feeling rules also differ from profession to profession (Mann, 2004). For example, a person working in a fire fighting department or a counselor needs more feeling rules as compared to a shop assistant. This is because the person working in a fire fighting department is more often exposed to trauma and therefore needs help to be able to recover completely from bad emotional experiences. Most organizations employ de-briefing as a method of dealing with the side effects that result due to emotional labour. De-briefing can be described as the process by which an individual totally opens up to another individual informing him of an encountered event that was emotionally stressful (Bolton, 2001). This process is usually conducted by a trained professional and an employee is able to receive advice on how to handle stressful situations at work more effectively without them harming themselves in the process. Some organizations have even gone to an extent of availing hotlines to employees to have them ring up professional counselors when they are in need of counseling services (Smith, 2001).

In conclusion, Emotional labour can be both beneficial and harmful to an employee depending on how the employee decides to embrace it. It is also important to note that feeling rules are responsible for governing the response that would be displayed by an individual in this case, an employee at particular times. Surface acting is bad for an employee since it could be disastrous to an employee’s health while deep acting is beneficial and is comparable to an enriching experience. Personality plays a role in eliciting the appropriate emotional response and it is therefore the duty of employers to recruit employees with the desirable qualities for a particular job (James, 1992). For example, employing a timid person to work as sales person would not be very appropriate. This is because it would take this person a whole lot of strength to be able to convince customers to buy a Company’s products. This straining could be very stressful to such an employee and it could eventually lead to emotional burn out. Service industries have to put much effort in understanding what Emotional labour is and its implications to be able to fully harness its benefits.


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Smith, P., &Gray, B., 2001.Reassessing the concept of emotional labour in student nurse education: role. Macmillan press. NY.

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