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Emotional Work


Dramatic changes have taken place in advanced capitalist societies in the final quarter of the 20th century. These changes involve a paradigm shift to post Fordism and new work concepts in organisations. They are now incorporating self managed teams and multi skilled workers, tele-working and networked organisations. The service based economy has increasingly become dominant and often characterized as post industrial society. Fordism paradigm continually gets renewed as the dominant mode of work in organisations under capitalization as suggested from the deskilling thesis (Noon 2007, p. 176). The effect of this becomes specialized work with a narrow range of low-discretion tasks. This, then, makes organisations to prescribe the exact working conditions and expected outcome from their employees, especially emotionally, while serving the customers.

Human beings are subject to a constant stream of positive and negative thoughts and emotions. The distinguishing factor between human beings is how they emotionally react to similar situations or experiences. Considering the role of emotions at work, logic makes people think, while emotions make them act. Whatever people do, emotions are involved in all their work and decisions. With all the risks that are there in life, making a decision always involves uncertainty and risk. Therefore, the belief that the benefits of one decision outweigh another is purely emotional among other facts that may be considered. Logical arguments may help one analyze the benefits and may reduce the fear and risk but eventually, the belief, intuition, and emotion are the ones that allow people to act, in spite of the risk.           

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Emotional Intelligence Skills and Their Impact on Work Performance

There are four emotional intelligence skills that pair up under two prime competencies; personal and social competence. Personal competence is composed of self management and self awareness skills. They focus on a person and how they interact with other people. It is the ability to stay aware of one’s emotions and how to manage their behaviour and tendencies. Social competence is made up of the relational management and social awareness skills. Self awareness involves being able to stay on top of characteristic reactions to events, challenges and even people.                                                                                                                                                          A high level of self-awareness requires readiness to put up with the discomfort of negative feelings. Therefore, how one leads his or her life depends on their level of self awareness, and so is their work. People with low level of self-awareness take less risk due to fear of an unknown outcome. Therefore, according to Battistina (2011), the work that is done must involve less risk and consequently less income and the only genuine way to understanding persons emotions involves spending time thinking through them and figuring out their origin and the reason they experience them. The bottom-line of self-awareness is not being afraid of one’s emotional mistakes.                                                                                                               

Emotions are shaped by an individual’s nationality, educational background, family but are modified through life experiences in socially controlled environments (Bradberry 2009). Most jobs require a level of ability in handling other peoples’ emotions as well as handling their own. An illustration could be seen in a waitress who creates an atmosphere of a pleasant dining, a tour guide who makes his clients feel welcome or even a debt collector who instills fear. All these professions require expression of emotion. Therefore, the people doing them must at that point show only the prescribed emotions in the work place irrespective of what they might be feeling.

The nature of interaction between employees and customers in organisations has received strong attention in the service sector. These interactions have intensified and are happening in a competitive environment, where the services on sales are similar. Therefore, increased emphasis has been put on the psychological nature of the services rendered, rather than the physical nature (Carmine & Hartel 2006). Consequently, organisations are more concerned with how the customers feel and how they are treated during the actual service rendering so as to return whenever they need the same service. Organisations lay a lot of emphasis on customer care and, therefore, recognize employees having direct contact with customers as their principal representatives. The management monitors service delivery to customers, which has resulted in emotional labour.                                                          

The Concepts of Emotional Labour and Emotional Work

Emotional labour can be described as management of emotions and emotional expressions by an individual in order to conform to organisations expectations and requirements (Moony 2004). According to Moony, organisations adopting this control do not design their customer service rules in a manner that corresponds to the employee’s emotions, but rather the employees emotions are reconstructed to suit what the organisation requires. Emotional work can be described as work carried out with deliberate efforts to maintain a relationship without striving to attain organisational goals. It involves emotions but lacks prescribed control by management. While carrying out emotional work, social rules could be employed in order to assess a situation properly and produce the expected emotion. An example of emotional work is when employees act as if busy in front of their supervisors or smile to their customers. An amount of effort is required in emotion work and is continuously done to shape feelings in order to suit the occasion.

Emotional labour, where control is outlined rather than natural is referred to as prescriptive, while emotion work, where social rules are applied in emotional response is called presentational (Cropanzan 2011). Employers prescribe emotion management to employees in order to standardize the behaviour of employees. However, in situations, where the variability is large, it would be difficult eradicating worker flexibility.  Even so, the organisation controls the employees by guiding them to make decisions that relate with customers in accordance to the prescription by management.

A set of guidelines are stated to limit the employees in respect to their emotion and to what range they can play about. Most employers claim that they want employees to interact with customers in a natural manner, but the trainings and supervisory systems are still developing in an attempt to describe the perceived customer expectations. All in all, employees are only made to think that their interaction with customers is natural, but it is still limited and put under a prescription by management. 

Sometimes, incorporating emotions into work could be beneficial and pleasurable to the employee and organisation. Where employees enjoy facing customers, it may result in generation of pleasant feeling in themselves, while trying to invoke them in others. The employees are expected to put up an appearance for the customers, but most of the times, genuine emotions are expressed, and they do not have to fake it because it comes naturally.  During recruitment of such individuals, the organisation made sure that the individuals recruited display friendly and emotional character and, thus, made it easier for employees to enjoy interacting with customers. Employment of such individuals makes the emotions expected by the prescribed organisation less prescribed and more natural. The result becomes job satisfaction.             

Emotional control not only benefits the employees but also the managers, since they reinforce organisational values through coaching, rather than enforcement, which lead to reduction of bureaucratic control in the organisation (Grugulis 2007). Emotional labour has its consequences in the organisation. It has been shown to lead to emotional rupture, which is a process that detaches employees from their own feelings, and may lead to identity loss. In addition to that, the constant struggle between genuine emotions naturally felt by an employee and the prescribed emotions by management may lead to emotional discord. Emotional labour has been linked to endangering employee’s health, and acts of drug abuse, alcohol abuse emerge (Maslach et al. 2010). They are subjected to a one-sided relationship, since as while offering their prescribed emotions, they are not supposed to respond to abusive customers, which is an unfair exchange, especially from the point of a service provider.                                                     

A large percentage of service sector jobs are held by women, and ninety percent of female jobs are based in the service sector (Noon 2007). This makes the service sector gender biased, and emotion labour is seen as female job. This gender biased perspective of emotional labour has led to an unfair treatment of women in the service sector, because they have more emotional demands, and hence, they are more strictly monitored than their male counterparts.

Characteristics of Jobs Involving Emotional Labour

Jobs, which involve emotional labour, have three characteristics; they require facial contact with the public and allow the employer to have control over the employee’s emotional activities and also require the worker to create a pleasant emotional state in the customer (Grugulis 2007). In order to standardize the emotional display and the actions of their frontline, service workers, employers put in place a variety of strategies. These strategies include provision of scripts, which range from basic instructions to complex transactions as well as wearing of uniform. When employees wear uniform, it impacts significantly on the emotional display of the workers in that they are reminded that they are employees who fulfil a crucial role in an organisation, therefore, need to behave accordingly (Ashkanasy 2006, p. 225). According to Ashkanasy (2006), emotional management can be considered a form of impression management, where the employees direct their behaviour towards clients. They are required to demonstrate a certain social perception of themselves under an interpersonal climate. It is like an actor performing on stage to a discriminating audience. 

Job Satisfaction and Emotional Labour Strategy

Job satisfaction refers to the positive or negative attitude that people have about their jobs. Job satisfaction has different effects on emotional labour strategies. This means that employees who are not satisfied with their jobs may be involved in surface acting, so as to bring their portrayed emotions as per the requirements of their organisations. Eventually, they have difficulties engaging in deep acting because of the emotional investment required by that strategy. Consequently, the lower the employee’s job satisfaction, the more they will employ surface acting because it does not need much effort.

The extent to which the organisational script regulates a service employee’s behaviour is likely to impact their choice of emotional labour strategy. When an organisation has more service scripts that restrict an employee’s behaviour, it makes them engage in surface acting because they are prevented by the rigid scripts from behaving naturally, which is part of a deep acting strategy. Where the service scripts are less rigid, and allow employees to adapt to their own natural behaviour according to customers need, they are more likely to engage in deep acting behaviour. Conclusively, it can, therefore, be said that rigid service scripts have a positive impact on surface acting but have a negative impact on deep acting.

Reconceptualisation of Emotional Labour

The distinction between what goes on within a person is known as intentional state and the actual behaviour being performed is termed as motivational act. An additional construct can be given to clarify and provide a link between situational demands and state conditions, and the outcome behaviour (Carmine & Hartel 2006, p. 194). One such construct has been established as dissonance. It is a perceived emotional state representing discord between the felt emotion and the perceived emotion. It arises from a combination of situational demands and individual differences. Surface acting or deep acting is motivated response to a psychological condition of high professed dissonance.                                                                                                               Perceived dissonance can be said to be disconnect between genuinely felt emotions and those that are required for the situation (Battistina 2011). It makes the necessary precursors to emotional labour. Battistina (2011) states that there are two types of dissonance; that experienced prior to behaviour of emotional labour and that experienced after this behaviour have already taken place. He described the first type as the degree of disparity between the felt emotions and the displayed emotions or faking. The second type he described as the mismatch between expressed emotions and local norms.  Dissonance between felt and displayed emotion requires behavioural response to an emotional condition. This means that one experiences an emotional state and is forced to deal with it.

Coping Strategies

Service workers are able to cope adequately given the negative effects, associated with performance of emotional labour. Coping strategies are classified as emotion focused or problem focused. Emotion focused strategies involve distancing and wrestling positive values from negative ones, avoidance, and minimization.  They result in change in the way an encounter is made. These strategies will involve engaging in physical exercise to take one’s mind off the problem, like having a drink, seeking emotional support or even venting anger on somebody. Other coping strategies, which are problem focused, include reducing ego involvement or learning new procedures and skills (Mastracci et al., 2011).

In the prevention of burn out, feeling that one is cared for, valued, and part of a communication network has been identified as particulary important. It makes the workers feel contained in a psyco social environment, where they fit and are they can express themselves as desired, especially when out of work. Service workers must manage their emotions such that they are pleasant to customers and, therefore, produce valued outcomes for their organisation. Doing this service work involves a series of interpersonal transactions. The ability to act contributes substantially to the success of these transactions. Sometimes, a combination of emotion focussed, and problem solving strategies can be used to cope with difficult situations. The staff may organize themselves in a manner that they handle tough situations together, an illustration could be when a client gets aggressive, another staff comes over and tries to handle the situation. Collectively, they will share the emotional burden and make it easier to handle than it would have been.


Having evaluated what emotional work does and its intricacies, a number of strategies can be made by managers in the service organisations on strategies, which they could implement to support their front line service workers. Managerial support is one of them and it involves open door policy and fostering excellent communication with staff. Managerial and coworker support, which involves team meetings, problem solving and time outs allowed when appropriate; physical layout and training, which involves staff not working in isolation in customer service areas, and improving customer service skills such as communication and conflict resolution skills. Job design, where time is properly allocated between customer contact and back office functions (Mastracci et al., 2011). 

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