HomeAMH VoicesAMHVoices: Emotional labour and its consequences

AMHVoices: Emotional labour and its consequences


Have you ever walked in a shop and got served by a polite, friendly and smiling attendant and then as you walk out you feel you were offered great customer service? Yes indeed this is an experience we all expect as customers but this is not always guaranteed because employees experience frustrations and face challenges at any time of the day which negatively affect how they behave.

This is no excuse for poor customer service, everyone goes through a bad day which impacts how they think, talk and act. Personal problems, illness, heart breaks in relationships and betrayal influence employee behaviour and how they interact.

Despite all this it is compulsory in the work place to be able to control genuine personal feelings and exhibit a required favourable attitude in execution of tasks. No matter you are angry or disappointed, it is no excuse to shout and vent frustrations.

Most popular interactions which call for control of genuine personal feelings occur in the service industry where customer experience is highly valued. This interface happens through face to face and voice to voice conversations.
Due to the personal nature of such exchanges, it is of utmost importance for employees to exhibit positive attitude regardless of the fact that it might be just acting which is far divorced from genuine feelings and emotions.

In the retail sector, employees are urged to smile and greet customers. In call centres, customer care agents are obliged to be pleasant in scripted conversations and in the security sector, employees are required to be firm. The nature of the jobs make it an essential necessity for employees to bottle up their personal feelings and execute their jobs with the right degree of sincerity, positive attitude and enthusiasm.

This behaviour is important because it influences customer’s perceptions to service quality and product quality, moreover it is at the core of service experience.

In order to regulate this, organisations formulate display rules which serve as a standard for the proper expression of emotions in the workplace. This is meant to ensure customer satisfaction and high probability of repeat business. The belief is that there is a correlation between customer satisfaction and revenue generation, therefore organisations create rules for compliance purposes.

This regulation of emotions and feelings in work place is termed emotional labour which is a process of manipulating natural feelings and presenting favourable emotions. So how do employees manage to bottle up their emotions and manage them?

Hochschild an American sociologist in her book The Managed Heart articulated three ways employees manage their emotions, which is surface acting, deep acting and genuine acting.

Surface acting involves employees pretending emotions they are not feeling at all and changing their outward appearances to suit the situation. For example, a customer service representative may feign a smile and cheerfully greet a customer even when actually feeling angry.

Another method is deep acting. Deep acting occurs when employees use their training or past experience to fake appropriate emotions because their feelings do not fit the situation. The last technique is genuine acting which is used to imply situations where employees spontaneously express the same emotion with little effort.

At face value, emotional labour seems harmless but it has detrimental consequences. It impairs performance by raising expectations of good service that cannot be met, it causes emotional exhaustion which shows through physical fatigue, cynicism, depression and emotional drainage.

There are also scenarios whereby employees suffer from self-alienation and role-alienation through being fake, faking good faith and enthusiasm. They experience an estrangement or misalignment between oneself and the work role. Job dissatisfaction is the eventual consequence which manifests due to lack of congruence between individual characteristics and job requirements.

In order to counter negatives brought by emotional labour, organisations should devise cushioning initiatives to counter its dire consequences which make employees hypocritical, robotic and detached.

Firstly during recruitment and selection organisations should ensure that there is a person-job fit whereby individuals’ characteristics are congruent with the job requirements. This is achieved through psychometric testing.

When there is person job fit, there is probability that expressed feelings in a job will be congruent to experienced emotions.

In the work set up, job autonomy is another strategy which increases the degree of control employees have over their jobs hence mitigating against monotony. Another approach will be work life balance where by emotional repression can be given a healthy expressive outlet through flexible working patterns and work place sporting activities.

Without implementing some of these ways to reduce the negatives of emotional labour, employees are likely to suffer in silence and when employees suffer in silence, one way or the other the organisation suffers too.

Freemen Pasurai writes in his personal capacity and is passionate about people management and customer services. freemenpasurai01@gmail.com

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