The term emotional labor was first coined by Arlie Hochschild in 1963, in her book The Managed Heart, where she emphasizes that emotional labor is “the relational rather than the task-based aspect of work.” In the workplace, emotional labor is often seen as the need for workers to suppress their feelings and emotions in order to “save face.” In other words, it is the idea that workers need to maintain an outward appearance that will bring about a positive state of mind in others.
Research has also shown that emotional labor doesn’t just mean having to manage one’s emotions, but also has to do with managing other people’s emotions and feelings, empathizing with them, and taking care of their state of mind. Depending on the work circumstances, this part of emotional labor can play out differently.
Unsurprisingly, emotional labor – especially in the workplace – is expected from women more than it is from men. From constantly having to smile as to not appear ‘unapproachable’ to initiating small talk for the same reason, this type of labor has been seen as a requirement rather than just a suggestion. Women, since the beginning of time, have been stereotyped as nurturers and being more fragile than men, making them the perfect ‘fit’ to exude this type of work. Workers in the service industry are likely to perform emotional labor more than anyone else. It can get to the point where they can be reprimanded for not smiling or not being as cheerful as they are expected to be, which in itself is extremely problematic. Because this work is uncompensated, there is no way to measure when one exerts too much or too little emotional labor.
For women in particular, it seems that the more emotional labor we perform, the more it can take a toll on your own well-being. At work, we are expected to be there for our customers, clients, and co-workers. As Melody Wilding explains in her article “How Emotional Labor Affects Women’s Careers”, emotional labor, most of the time, goes unrecognized. Not only are women paid less than their male counterparts across professions, they also have the keep their emotions “in check,” and make everyone around them is comfortable – whether that means rephrasing emails in order to not seem rude or volunteering to take on an extra load of work. This can cause women to hold themselves back from getting ahead.
As Wilding states, the expectation to perform emotional labor is not the same for our male counterparts, because it is assumed that women are just “better fit” for this type of stuff. Interestingly, emotional labor can happen at home as well, and can impact the way we interact at work. At home and in their personal lives, certain working women have to deal and take care of children, significant others, and other people in their lives. It becomes difficult to take care of yourself because you are always putting other people’s feelings and well-beings above yours.
From what I’ve come to understand about emotional labor, it’s the type of work that goes unrecognized in professional and personal contexts. The circles that we are part of us implicitly expect women to be there to give advice, sympathize, and even take care of things that no one else wants to take care of. It’s time that we take into account and recognize the effects that constant emotional labor has on a lot of women.