Whether employees want to portray particular emotions in accordance with display rules out of a genuine desire to care for their client (as is the case of many within the caring professions), or whether they do so simply because they wish to retain their job or earn more tips (as in the case of some within the service industry), there will undoubtedly be many occasions when the emotions that the worker wishes to display are not the same as those that s/he genuinely feels.
Expressed feelings can match well or poorly with experienced feelings (true feelings) and external display rules. The match between feelings expressed in the role and these demands can lead to one of a number of outcomes: emotional harmony (when there is a match between displayed emotion, felt emotion and display rules), emotional dissonance (when there is a match between displayed emotion and display/feeling rules but not with genuinely felt emotion*/this is discussed more in a later section) or emotional deviance (when displayed and felt emotion match each other but not the display rules of the organization).
Emotional labor largely occurs with emotional dissonance, although some researchers argue that ‘even in situations in which there is congruence between the individual’s felt emotion and the organizationally desired emotion, there will be some degree of effort or labor required in expressing emotions’. Morris and Feldman acknowledge that less effort is required in this instance but maintain that the worker still has to exert some effort to ensure that what is felt will be displayed in ‘organizationally appropriate ways’. For example, the feeling of sympathy should generally be expressed with the appropriate facial display and tone of voice, rather than floods of tears (see the quote from the nurse in the previous section who soon learned from her colleagues that her tears were too extreme an emotional response to display).
Emotional labor then refers to the ‘work role requirements concerning the display of appropriate emotions to create a [desired] impression’ and is an ‘integral yet often unrecognized part of employment that involves contact with people’ (p. 96). Three components of emotional labor are identified: (1) the faking of emotion that is not felt and/or (2) the hiding of emotion that is felt, and (3) the performance of this emotion management in order to meet expectations within a work environment.
Examples of emotional laborers abound. Consider the cocktail waitress who must continually appear ‘exuberant and friendly’ even to abusive customers if tips are to be forthcoming, or the doctor who must suppress her feelings in front of patients only to ‘cry or weep when patients have left her surgery’. Consider also the foreman on the shopfloor charged with enforcing work rules he personally thinks are ‘inane’ or the police officer who is required to be ‘calm and dispassionate in the face of human misery’, or the worker who told Hochschild that ‘even when people are paid to be nice, it’s hard for them to be nice at all times’ (p. 118). In each of these settings, managing one’s emotions is crucial to successful role performance. As Leavitt and Bahrami point out, ‘we are likely to find many cases of emotional turmoil on the inside coupled with the appearance of orderly control on the outside’.
How then is emotional labor performed? Hochschild argued that emotional labor is performed through either surface or deep acting. Surface acting involves conforming to display rules by simulating emotions that are not actually felt. This is accomplished by careful presentation of verbal and non-verbal cues such as facial expression, gestures and voice tone. Deep acting on the other hand involves the actor attempting to actually experience or feel the emotion that they wish (or that they are expected) to display. Feelings are actively induced as the actor ‘psyches’ him/ herself into the desired persona; it is similar to the way that professional actors from the ‘method’ school of acting psyche themselves up for a role.
Surface acting, then, focuses directly on outward behavior whereas deep acting focuses more on the inner feeling; ‘in surface acting, we deceive others about what we really think but we do not deceive ourselves’, whereas in deep acting ‘we try to stir up a feeling we wish we had’ (p. 43). In this way, the surface actor ‘only identifies with the work-role at a superficial level, controlling emotional display rather than inner feelings, and maintaining a distinction between the public and the private’. In other words, it could be argued that the emotional laborer who conforms to display rules in this way is able to maintain the separation between the work-role act and the real self. Individuals using deep acting skills, however, might have ‘the edge over simple pretending in its power to convince’, but they may identify with and take on the role they are playing rather more and consequently become unable to divorce themselves from the identity implied by their occupational role (. This can have negative consequences for them which will be discussed in the next section.
Emotional labor and stress
Performance of emotional labor has many positive outcomes for both the target of the emotional display, and for the laborer. Selling more products, dealing with customer complaints adequately, ensuring the smooth-running of interactions*/even obtaining confessions from criminals are all positive outcomes associated with the performance of emotional work. Within the caring professions, expressing genuine emotion is not always the most helpful response*/in some cases performing emotional labor might be more beneficial to the client. For instance, a mental health nurse is reported by Henderson as saying that ‘I think I’m pretty good at detaching myself . . . I’m not saying I don’t have any empathy or sympathy for them, but I’ve learned that it’s not always helpful [to express it]’ (p. 133). Similarly, a maternity nurse in the same paper is reported as saying, ‘You have to have a rational detachment otherwise you could become involved . . . and then it would not benefit yourself or this woman, you would be sort of judgmental towards her’.
For the individual, emotional labor also provides the actor with a prescribed set of responses and patterns of behavior that can guide them through the often dynamic and emergent encounter as well as protect them, in the case of the nurses, for example, from getting too involved and weakening their clinical judgment. Within other professions, of course, such an actor may gain financially from his or her emotional labor performance by making a sale or garnering larger tips. The influence of displayed emotions on financial well-being can be even more subtle; a doctor who does not express warmth and empathy may lose clients and a lawyer who is cold and abrupt may alienate juries, hence losing his or her share of awarded damages.
On a deeper level, it has been suggested that the emotional laborer can actually distance themselves cognitively from the situation by acting rather than experiencing the required emotion. This allows them to maintain objectivity and retain their own emotional equilibrium. This is why advocates of ‘technical’ approaches to professional acting (akin to surface acting) believe their approach is superior to ‘method’ acting (akin to deep acting). As Wilson put it, ‘Olivier could not possibly feel Othello’s full passion every night over a three year run; it would probably kill him’ (p. 73).
Certainly it might prevent him from concentrating on the moves, gestures, voice tones, etc. with which he needs to choreograph with the rest of the cast. Similarly, in order that the nurse or doctor does not let their emotional response impair their judgment, nor spend the bulk of their working life in distress, they learn the aforementioned art of ‘detached concern’ whereby they can appear concerned whilst remaining somewhat aloof.
Despite all these advantages of emotional labor performance, especially for the customer and organization, emotional labor is viewed by many as a ‘double-edged sword’. Concerns that organizationally prescribed rules on emotional display might affect the psychological health of the laborer were expressed almost as soon as the term itself was coined; Hochschild, whose seminal work on flight attendants first introduced the concept, asked, ‘when rules about how we feel and how to express feeling are set by management . . . when deep and surface acting are forms of labor to be sold, and when private capacities for empathy and warmth are put to corporate uses, what happens to the way a person relates to her feelings?’ (p. 89). Wharton expressed these concerns even more strongly when she claimed in 1993 that ‘this job demand, unique to occupations involving emotional labor, can be viewed as one source of job-related stress’ (p. 209).
It is argued that portraying emotions that are not felt creates the stress or strain (mentioned in an earlier section) of emotional dissonance, akin to Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance which maintains that whenever an individual simultaneously holds two cognitions that are psychologically inconsistent, they experience a negative drive state called dissonance which is a state of discomfort or tension. Although emotional dissonance, like cognitive dissonance, is an unstable state, reducing the dissonance is problematic. Emotional laborers can reduce the strain by changing what they feel or by changing what they feign. As Van Maanen and Kunda point out, ‘if the feeling gives way and comes into line with the display . . . the employee’s sense of self begins to move to the rhythms of corporate ups and downs’ (p. 92). It is as if ‘one’s feelings have been given over to a third party to manage’. If, on the other hand, display gives way, ‘inappropriate passions may be released that may cost the wayward worker a job’.
Ultimately, the stress of such dissonance can lead to personal and work-related maladjustment, such as poor self-esteem (for example, Hochschild’s flight attendants were constantly fighting against appearing ‘phony’ since it was seen not merely as ‘poor acting’, but as ‘evidence of a personal moral flaw, almost a stigma’, p. 134), depression, cynicism and alienation from work. It is this reasoning that led Fegen to argue that since ‘putting on an act regularly can be exhausting’ (p. 85), emotional laborers should receive ‘hypocrisy pay’ to ‘ease the burden’, and to Sutton, talking of employees being ‘robbed of their right to display and even feel, genuine emotions’ (p. 266). Indeed, Hochschild, who observes that ‘surely the flight attendants’ sense that ‘she should feel cheery’ does more to promote profit for United than to enhance her own well-being’ (p. 573), went further by comparing the physical exploitation of a child laborer in the 19th century with that of the emotional exploitation of a flight attendant in the 20th century which can lead to drug use, excessive drinking, headaches, absenteeism from work and sexual dysfunction.
James also comments that ‘emotional labor can be as exhausting as physical labor’ (p. 27), whilst Stenross and Kleinman observe that ‘manual laborers must bend their body to the task, but emotional laborers must surrender their heart’ (p. 436). Some argue that this view assumes that emotional laborers are being exploited, a point which is a bone of contention with some contemporary researchers who argue that actors may choose to perform emotion work (for example, in order to increase their financial gains). Moreover, of course, some people may enjoy and take pride in their emotion work as discussed in earlier sections of this paper; however, as clarified earlier, this willingness does not preclude the performance of emotional labor and its possible negative consequences.
- Mann, Sandi, ‘People-work’: emotion management, stress and coping, Journal of Guidance & Counselling, May 2004, Vol. 32, Issue 2.
Reflection Exercise #11
The preceding section contained information
about emotional labor and stress/anger. Write
three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section
in your practice.
Hochschild argued that emotional labor is performed through either surface or deep acting. What is surface acting and deep acting? Record the letter of the correct answer