Jackie grew increasingly frustrated as she sat in customer service training, listening to her male colleague, George, balk at the idea of being exceptionally welcoming and courteous to their clients in the banking industry. “Patience and understanding . . . those things just don’t come naturally to men,” he’d remarked to the instructor. “Women are just better at that stuff and that’s why they should do it. Then we’ll really knock the customer’s socks off. I’d probably just make matters worse.”
Jackie seethed. This was the third time George tried to relegate prompt and courteous customer service issues as “women’s work” and she was tired of it.
“The truth is,” Jackie spoke up, “using our emotions in service of our clients and our jobs isn’t women’s work. It is hard work, and if we want to maintain a competitive edge in what is essentially a commodity business, we have to set ourselves apart with superb customer service. And that’s the job of everyone who works at the bank, regardless of gender, age, or any other specific characteristic.”
The ruckus in the training room was essentially about emotional labor: managing one’s feelings and associated communication with customers or colleagues to be in alignment with organizational guidelines. In other words, your employer prescribes your emotions and the regulation of your emotions.
In an increasingly service-based economy, emotional labor has moved from traditionally “caring” professions like healthcare and teaching and service related roles like flight attendant and customer service, to encompass some aspect of nearly every job. Even roles carried out by individual contributors with no contact with customers, like software developers, are now bound by at least some degree of emotional labor as employees are required to demonstrate the organization’s values in their everyday work (i.e., being caring team members).
And, as Jackie duly notes, the work of emotional labor is now everyone’s responsibility. It is not owned by any one gender, nor does it belong to any specific role in the organization. We are all in the business of emotional labor.
The next time you are called upon to provide emotional labor, use the following steps to give it your all, without giving depleting yourself.