Emotional Labour

Ever had to smile at work, even when you didn’t want to? Or, show empathy and warmth to someone you’re caring for, when you are at your wits’ end? Or, stayed silent when what you really wanted to do was speak up? I got my hand raised.

All of these workplace actions involved ‘emotional labour’. A recent BBC Why Factor podcast I listened to was all about emotional labour.

“Many jobs require workers to manage their emotional expressions with others. Flight attendants are expected to smile and be friendly even in stressful situations, carers are expected to show empathy and warmth, whereas bouncers and prison guards might need to be stern or aggressive. This management of emotions as part of a job is called ‘emotional labour’. It is something many people perform on top of the physical and mental labour involved in their work. Psychologists have shown that faking emotions at work, and suppressing real feelings, can cause stress, exhaustion and burnout. These efforts can be invisible, and that sometimes allows employers to exploit them. Nastaran Tavakoli-Far speaks to sociologists, psychologist, economists and bartenders and asks why we should value emotional labour.”

I’ve been reflecting on emotional labour a bit more than usual this week.

First of all, it’s Family Caregivers Week, here in BC. I volunteer as a facilitator of a family caregivers support group for male caregivers. The conversations in that group often have an emotional labour component. Caring is like that. Yes, men too, can be good at sharing their emotions.

Second, it’s Mother’s Day this Sunday, May 12. Mothers know all about emotional labour, as one of my favourite Globe & Mail columnists, Elizabeth Renzetti, writes about in this opinion piece, The hidden cost of emotional labour.

Third, this article about the Social Justice Enterprise is a reminder that economy can be / should be measured in ways that go beyond the traditional GNP metrics. And, perhaps emotional labour should be one such measurement?

Let it be resolved: Emotional labour be valued for its true worth.

Speak Your Mind