In a work context, emotional labor refers to the expectation that a worker should manipulate either her actual feelings or the appearance of her feelings in order to satisfy the perceived requirements of her job. Emotional labor also covers the requirement that a worker should modulate her feelings in order to influence the positive experience of a client or a colleague.
It also includes influencing office harmony, being pleasant, present but not too much, charming and tolerant and volunteering to do menial tasks (such as making coffee or printing documents).
Think of air hostesses, which was one of Hochschild’s main examples in 1983, having to cater to clients’ needs with an accommodating smile and a sympathetic ear, no matter how tired or disgusted they are by a vomiting child or a sleazy business class male customer.
Think too of the female politician, who is expected to be likable and fun, as well intelligent and capable (if this rings a bell, it’s because Hillary Clinton’s aides are urging her to show more humor and heart).
Think of your morning Starbucks barista, who drew a smiley face on your cardboard cup of coffee this morning. Did she really want to go the extra mile today, or was it just part of the job expectation?
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Photo: air hostess: one of the occupations requiring an untold amount of patience. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images