Service With a SmileTerm Paper

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Emotional Labor

The author of this report has been asked to offer a treatise on the subject of emotional labor. The report itself will comprise two main sections. The first section will be a brief summary and literature review of what precisely emotional labor is and some examples of it. The second part of the report will be a summary of some survey findings that were gleaned from interviews with a select number of interviewees. Indeed, they were asked questions relating to emotional labor and the results of that survey work will be covered in the latter part of this report. While not all workers have to actively and continuously engage in emotional labor, there are some jobs where it is a major part of the work and tasks involved.


As defined by Wikipedia, emotional labor is a requirement of a job whereby emotions are required to be shown and displayed to customers. A good example would be when a hostess smiles and greets people as they enter an eating establishment. Job roles where emotional labor is often part (if not a major part) of the job would include flight attendant, daycare worker, nursing home worker, nurses, doctors, teachers, social workers, call center workers and so forth. Also, most job roles found in hotels, motels and bars would also involve emotional labor to some degree or another. Many world economies are shifting from manufacturing-based economies to those that are comprised more of service-type jobs such as customer service and so forth (Wikipedia).

The term "emotional labor" was ostensibly coined by noted sociologist Arlie Hocschild. The definition offered by Hocschild is basically that it is a task or job that involved a "form of emotion regulation that creates a publicly visible facial and bodily display within the workplace" (Wikipedia, 2015). Hocschild wrote a feature article back in 2008 about the subject. The author notes that "joy, sadness, anger, elation, jealousy, envy, despair, anguish, grief -- all these feelings are partly social." However, the author notes that many jobs out there are about putting on the proper face or mask so that the right presentation is created. As stated by Hocschild, "the effort to seem to feel and to try to really feel the 'right' feeling for the job, and to try to induce the 'right' feeling in certain others" (Hocschild). The class text by Vecchio makes reference to related concepts like changing employee behavior through consequences. Indeed, people who do not put on the right emotional "face" will face consequences for their actions (Vecchio).

Other sociologists have taken the core concept of emotional labor and melded it to fit their own perspective. Many of these other sociologists come pre-defined and commonly known perspectives of sociology. One such branch that is widely known and accepted would be the feminism perspective. A university in Austria offered a treatise from his perspective and stated that "the expression 'emotional labor' is frequently used in discussions among women, and appears all the more in scientific literature. It has never been part of the official language of work, it is a new term" (Graz). Much of the rest of what written by in the Graz offering was the same but there were some notable deviations and differences. For example, section 1.3 of their site talks about emotional labor as a "stressing job." The authors use the real-world example of Andrea Dworkin. She wrote a book about pornography and she said that the material had "ruined her life." Also cited was the work of G. Legman who "described how he composed his voluminous work on the logic of the dirty joke between tears and laughter" (Graz).

Section 1.4 of the Graz offering talks about emotional labor as "work on oneself." Indeed, the Graz offering says that working "involving observation/perception is also work on oneself, this is certainly more intense, the greater the challenge to one's emotions and therefore forms a significant part of such jobs. Graz then talks about love as "concrete work." They describe the heart as a "muscle," as "peculiar as any other, like the uterus, or the brain, the biceps -- not explicitly included….in the most comprehensive definition of labor I have found." There is also talk about emotional labor in the context of "manual work." The first-given example is that of a nurse. Indeed, the source notes that "the considerable psycho-physical tolerance a nurse must have has also being rightly pointed out in order to be 'instantly awake at a call, on her feet and functioning for as long as she is needed, and instantly asleep as soon as she can lie down again" (Graz).

At the request of the assignment, the author of this report found one other source that was not among the required sources used above. Indeed, the author of this report found a source on the MSNBC website and it covers how companies "force" emotional labor on low-wage workers. The cited example was that of a Starbucks "barista." It is explained that being a Starbucks barista is more than just serving coffee. The barista also "needs to be polite, even friendly, to the customers. If she does her job correctly, then maybe the customer will walk away feeling like the barista was actually happy to serve him -- then it was not only her job, but a genuine pleasure." (Resnikoff). The MSNBC story makes direct reference to Hochschild, the same sociologist mentioned before. The story then goes on to describe the practice of many employers with low-wage workers. It menions that it "does appear to be a growing trend as employers become better at extracting additional productivity from low-wage service workers" (Resnikoff, 2013). The story wraps up with the quoting of a 1993 report by noted academics Blake Ashforth and Ronald Humphrey. They argued that "emotional labor stimulates pressure for the person to identify with that service role" (Resnikoff).

Pursuant to the terms of the assignment, the author of this report will also fill in some details about the results of some interviews that took place to inform and guide this assignment. One person spoke to was a customer service representative that took calls in a fairly professional setting. Indeed, the "customers" were actually professionals at other businesses. As part of each call, that person was supposed to follow a script of course. How the script was followed was basically up to the person taking the call but it was usually clear whether or not it was being followed. For example, if a customer expressed that they were having a problem, the representative would have to "express concern" and make sure that the customer knew that they empathized with the fact that the customer was experiencing a problem. Further, they would have to say "I can help" or something else of that nature so as to instill confidence in the customer that they would not have to keep calling and haranguing customer service to get a solution. The representative understood why his employer was asking him to do this but it came off as extremely scripted to go through some of those steps and more than a few customer caught on to the fact that they were being fed a script. Even so, the author had to do the script because it was something he was measured on when it came to job performance evaluations.

Another person interviewed for this report was a waitress. She lamented that her work very much involved an element of "emotional labor" and she likened it to the caricature-type character depicted in the movie Office Space that portrays Jennifer Aniston's boss. While she was not required to wear "flair," she says is constantly pecked by her managers to behave and portray herself in a certain way and that this holds true no matter how busy they are, how tired she is and so forth. Indeed, when she was asked the "scream or frown" question, her answer was an emphatic "yes." She says her coworkers keep her going and were it not for them, she would have "snapped" and walked out on the job much like Aniston's character did in Office Space. However, she needs the job and the money and she says that this is a common refrain with many of her coworkers. She says she understands that customers do not want some waitress scowling at them and being short with them. However, she says the job is quite intolerable at times and some customers are rather rude and inconsiderate to her and they implicitly know she cannot fight back without losing her job. She says that the job wears her down and she loses more and more confidence in how good people can be. She knows that is not right or valid but she says that she cannot help it sometimes. A third person interviewed for this report said much the same thing. She says that the people she serves on the phone sometimes know full well that she cannot snap back or… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Cite This Paper:

APA Format

Service With A Smile.  (2015, July 5).  Retrieved October 17, 2018, from

MLA Format

"Service With A Smile."  5 July 2015.  Web.  17 October 2018. <>.

Chicago Format

"Service With A Smile."  July 5, 2015.  Accessed October 17, 2018.