Essay: Addressing the Occupational Stress of Aviation Personnel

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Managing Stress & Emotions at Work

The practice of exhibiting emotions while working in a position for which one receives compensation is not conceptually new, by any means (Al-Serkal, 2006). Workers have long understood that projecting a friendly or upbeat attitude can foster positive work outcomes, such as larger tips, commendations made to superiors, and repeat business. What is conceptually new is the practice of requiring that employees display particular emotions as part of their performance evaluation and employment contracts (Al-Serkal, 2006). Moreover, the defining of the preferred emotions and articulating them to employees is not as straightforward as one would imagine.

Wide cultural differences exist with respect to emotional display, interpersonal space when communicating, showing deference, and the like. Employees from different cultural backgrounds are likely to interpret the attitudinal recommendations of their common employer in distinct ways (Hahn, 2000; McCarty & Shrum, 2001). This means that employee training and performance evaluation must necessarily adopt a multicultural orientation. Certain industries and sectors encounter these types of complexities more than others. The airlines sector, for one, faces multicultural challenges across several dimensions (Al-Serkal, 2006). Airline customers can originate from anywhere across the globe. International carriers generally must specialize to the extent that customers from several distinct regions or nations are well and comfortably served. Indeed, employees may represent widely different cultures in order to provide culturally sensitive services.

In addition to the multicultural dimensions of the airlines business, the nature of airlines work -- daily, moving masses of people safely and efficiently to their destinations around the world -- can be quite stressful (Al-Serkal, 2006). Stress is a given for many types of airlines employees -- and it certainly is omnipresent for the cabin crew, or airline attendants (Al-Serkal, 2006). Essay content following this introduction will identify and discuss sources of job stress and emotional labour, discuss the relation between cultural perspective and work-related stress, and provide strategic tactics and ideas for addressing managerial and organizational issues raised by these variables.

Occupational Stress

The concept of job stress is fairly well understood as it has been well researched and reported in the literature, and popular periodicals commonly provide articles to the general public that interpret scientific research about job and life stressors. The phenomenon referred to as emotional labour may be generally less well and broadly understood, if only because it has achieved a level of distinction as a behavioral requirement for some types of compensated labour. Strazdins (2000) argues that emotional labour is to some degree present in any interaction (in Al-Serkal, 2006: 10), which would suggest a continuum of emotional labour as an aspect of quotidian affairs. According to Al-Serkal (2006), the term "emotional labour" was coined by Hochschild in 1983 in "The Managed Heart." Because Hochschild's definition is seminal, economical, and broadly applicable, it is considered here: "…the management of feeling to create a publically observable facial and bodily display; emotional labour is sold for a wage and therefore has exchange value (in Al-Serkal, 2006: 18; Hochschild, 1983: 7). The assumption that underlies the contemporary conflict about emotional labour in the workplace is that when an employee must behave in a certain way -- acting as if they are experiencing a particular feeling -- while feeling to some degree in a different way, it generates internal stress.

Kinman (2009) explored the relationship between emotional labour and three strain outcomes: Job satisfaction, psychological distress, and work-life conflict. The findings of the Kinman (2009) research indicate that the emotional labour in which service sector workers (flight attendants and call center representatives) engage "may have negative implications for their well-being that extend beyond the work context" (128). Moreover, the research outcomes suggest that the mode of delivery of emotional labor -- whether face-to-face or voice-to-voice -- may also predict work-related strain. Importantly, independent of the mode of delivery, employees experiencing "greater dissonance" between the emotions they expressed and the emotions they felt when interacting with customers reported psychological distress at higher levels (Kinman, 2009: 130).

Grandey (2003) distinguishes forms of emotional labour, or acting "as if" one is experiencing a particular emotion on the job: Surface acting and deep acting. According to Grandey, surface acting occurs when an employee presents a particular facial expression, while deep acting occurs when an employee manages to actually modify their inner feelings (2003). Taking a dramaturgical perspective, Grandey argued that emotional labour is fundamentally a performance by the employee as dictated by the organization. As such, the employee performance can be critiqued or rated. Grandey found that surface acting didn't necessarily result in high delivery ratings to the extend that deep acting did; however deep acting was not related to stress, but surface acting was experienced as stressful by employees.

Brotheridge and Taylor (2006) reported that cross-cultural differences have been observed with respect to emotional labour in flight attendants working multicultural flights. While no differences were observed in flight attendants' faking emotions, there were differences in the degree to which they hid their feelings and employed deep acting. Interestingly, deep acting was associated with both vertical and horizontal collectivism (Brotheridge & Taylor, 2006).

Circadian rhythm disruption is a well-researched source of stress for avian employees. Although much of the research has been directed toward pilots and air-traffic control personnel, some researchers have examined the impact of circadian rhythm disruption in flight attendants or cabin crew members. Grajewski, et al. (2003) found that, as measured by overnight melatonin rates, women flight attendants experienced misalignment of their circadian rhythms and sleep-wake cycle that is likely to be a "chronic occupational condition," and that simply resting after each duty period is insufficient for realignment. As a result, female flight attendants are assured of experiencing sleep deprivation and may experience concomitant reproductive health problems. Fatigue, reduced alertness, and commission of errors are likely sources of occupational stress for members of the cabin crew.

Hahn (2000) found that locus of control impacted stress levels in low-level service workers, but also prompted differences in reactivity to the workplace stress. Hahn (2000) focused on four stress producing paths that are associated with locus of control: coping choice, coping effectiveness, exposure, and reactions. When grouped according to their tendency to internalize vs. externalize reactions, internals were angrier and had more health-related symptoms when they experienced low locus of control, but externals experienced more depression under the same conditions. Hahn (2000) argued that this effect was likely related to the different patterns of coping strategies that were evidenced by the two groups.

McCarty and Shrum (2001) found that individualism and economic status were related to beliefs about the inconvenience of certain demands and regulations, while collectivism and locus of control were related to beliefs about the importance of those demands and regulations. This study is relevant to the policy and practices put in place by employers with regard to the emotional display requirements of their employees. The association of locus of control to collectivism is particularly noteworthy as it implies that cultural influence about complying with different job demands may be variously perceived as within an employee's sphere of control when their worldview tilts toward collectivism (McCarty and Shrum, 2001).

Sonnentag and Natter (2004) studied the work recovery patterns of flight attendants in their home towns and when they are far from home to determine the relation of these patterns and practices to the well-being of the cabin crew. Recovering from job stress is "particularly problematic" for flight attendants as their jobs require them to adapt quickly to and function effectively in different time zones, continuously practice emotion work, and cope with high levels of physical work and critical discernment when they are sleep deprived (Sonnentag and Natter, 2004: 367). Moreover, opportunities to recover are marked by an inability to "maintain a regular private life," such that they must often spend their off-work recovery time far from home (Sonnentag and Natter, 2004: 367).

Notably, when spending recovery time in hotels far from home, flight attendants spent less time in job-related tasks, and did not engage in household or childcare activities. When flight attendants did spend time on job-related tasks during their hotel recovery times, they found it harder to disengage with their work, experienced "marginally lower levels of vigor and higher levels of fatigue at bedtime" (Sonnentag and Nutter, 2004: 386). Overall, Sonnentag and Natter (2004) found that flight attendants' recovery while overnighting in hotels tended to be of better quality than when recovery took place at home with one exception. When flight attendants engaged in social activities while off-work and away from home, their recovery suffered and they tended to experience depression at bedtime in the evening of the days in which they engaged in social activities while traveling (Sonnentag and Nutter, 2004: 386). Sonnentag and Nutter suggest this is an artifact of the need for flight attendants to continuously engage in emotional labour while working. Thus, the sources of occupationally caused stress that have been identified and discussed include: 1) Emotional labour, 2) locus of control issues, 3) sleep deprivation and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Addressing the Occupational Stress of Aviation Personnel.  (2015, January 27).  Retrieved October 16, 2019, from

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