Put on a happy face…then take stress leave.

Every day thousands of employees around the country are subjected to emotional labour. Let me demonstrate…Kathy is a barrista. She’s made thousands of coffees for her many regular customers. Like you and me Kathy is human. She makes mistakes. The disgruntled customer who receives a cappuccino instead of a long black is very unhappy. They’re lactose intolerant. Kathy receives a barrage of abuse. She apologises, but the customer continues with their verbal attack. Kathy suppresses her natural emotions to this abuse, instead remaining calm and apologetic, even empathising with the customer. Kathy is regulating her emotions. Kathy is experiencing emotional labour.

There are two types of emotional labour that workers draw upon to evoke appropriate emotions in the workplace. Deep acting occurs when a person feels a specific emotion connected to the thoughts running through their mind. For example Kathy knows she must smile and display a chirpy disposition while at work. She thinks of something that makes her happy. She thinks about her pending birthday celebrations. She is excited and consequently responds to customers with enthusiasm. Surface acting is what happens when the employee fakes their emotions to show behaviour that aligns with social norms or organisational rules. For example Kathy’s cat has gone missing and it is upsetting her greatly. She knows she must be display a bright and bubbly disposition at work. She disguises her inward emotions by adjusting her outward emotional expression by smiling. Kathy is putting on a happy face. Her manager is none the wiser.

Many workers regulate their emotions on a daily basis, particularly in the service sector. They do so to maintain a professional image. The consequences of doing so can insight emotional dissonance, that negative feeling one develops when they view an emotion as a conflict to their identity. Subsequently one is unable to control their emotions and their real emotions become an obstacle to performing as expected.Showing emotions that are appropriate for your job role, even if they are in direct conflict with your true feelings, can lead to emotional exhaustion and burnout over the long term. For a manager it can be tough to detect when an employee is experiencing such a conflict. Many of us are masters at disguising our true emotions, especially in the workplace. So if you cannot identify when an employee is struggling to interact as expected, offer training and outlets to assist them to manage these situations before they reach crises point and find themselves on stress leave.

Some staff naturally know how to diffuse a difficult situation before it has had an opportunity to detonate. Others need more guidance. You can provide your staff with scripts or teach them problem solving techniques. Employees can share their experiences with each other, imparting the positive and negative aspects of their learnings. Stress management tools can work effectively and so too can rotating staff off the front line if you have the capacity to do so. To gain an understanding of the emotional labour aspect of employee’s roles, perhaps asking the following questions will help:·

  • What are the emotional labour requirements of your job?
  • How do you deal with these requirements?
  • How often do you experience emotional conflict?
  • Do you think emotional conflict has led to emotional exhaustion?
  • How do you manage stress and other signs of emotional exhaustion?

With two thirds of the Australian workforce working in jobs that subject them to higher emotional labour, it is important to regularly examine how emotional labour is affecting them as individuals and as a team. It is not only important to ensure that your workforce continually provides high quality service to both internal and external customers, but that you do not find your team subject to costly and high turnover. Playing nice is not always easy. If you can reduce the strain, then do so. You will not only have a happier customer base, but also a happier workplace.

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SJ Personnel offer recruitment and HR services to businesses and candidates throughout Geelong, Surf Coast, The Bellarine and western Victoria region

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