Defining And Analysing Emotional Labor Philosophy Essay

Emotional labor is the control of a person’s behavior to display the appropriate emotions. This means that if a person wants to conform to social norms it will have to show certain emotions. The concept of emotional labor affects every aspect of life. This paper will examine emotional labor in service industries.

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Arlie Hochschild defined for the first time the term of emotional labor as “the work done with feelings as paid employment”. Hochschild pointed out that people control their emotions at work and in the private life. Whenever someone changes something in order to conform to an ideal, something that every human being does, it is emotional labor.

Another definition comes from Chu and it says that emotional labor is the control of a person’s behavior to display the appropriate emotions.

For example, if you are a customer service representative, the 80th person asking the same question must be answered as thoroughly as you served the first person. Otherwise, you are not doing your job of providing customer service because that 80th person has no idea that you’ve answered the same question 50 times. They just need an answer.

The jobs requiring emotional labor are either face-to-face or have voice contact. It has been proved that people can feel if the person at the other end of the line is smiling.

Attitudes and behaviors at work

An individual’s belief about job, working place or working team is shaped by emotions. Emotions affect behaviors at work. Research shows that individuals that are within your inner circle are better able to recognize and understand your emotions. The connection between emotions and emotional labor can be explained by the Affective Events Theory. Howard Weiss and Russell Cropanzano are the researchers that have studied the effect of six major emotions categories in the workplace. These are anger, fear, joy, love, sadness and surprise.

Their theory states that specific events that take place in the workplace cause people to feel different emotions. These emotions can be good for the job, for instance by inspiring actions that can benefit others, but it could also be bad, by inspiring actions that could impede others. For example, imagine that a coworker unexpectedly delivers your coffee at work. As a result you may feel happy and surprised. If that coworker is your boss you would probably feel proud. Studies have found that positive emotions at the workplace may inspire you to do things that you hadn’t planned to do before. Such things could be volunteering to help a colleague with a project. On the other side if you were unfairly treated by your boss you could experience negative emotions that could make you withdraw from work or act mean towards a colleague. Over time, these tiny moments of emotion on the job can influence a person’s job satisfaction.

Hochschild’s types of emotional acting

There are three types of emotional acting: surface acting, deep acting and genuine acting.

Surface acting is expressing an emotion without actually feeling that emotion. This is the most concerned type of emotional acting in the workplace because it has the most side effects. Surface acting most often involves putting all the negative emotions, such as anger, annoyance, sadness, etc. behind and substitute them with positive emotions, such as happiness, excitement, care, etc. because the customers expect it. For example the hairdresser of a crying child cutting its hair off may smile and act sympathetic without actually feeling so.

Deep acting takes surface acting one step forward. This time, instead of faking an emotion because someone expects it, an employee will try to experience the emotions they are displaying. In the case of the hairdresser cutting the hair off a crying child, the hairdresser may empathize with the child by thinking what it’s like to be in the child’s shoes. In this case the hairdresser might understand that the child is scared being in an unfamiliar environment and the hairdresser may genuinely feel sad for the child.

Genuine acting happens when individuals are asked to display emotions that are aligned with their own. If a job requires genuine acting less emotional labor is required because the actions represent the individual’s true feelings.

In conclusion, when it comes to acting the genuine your actions are the less emotional labor a job requires and the more your actions in the surface acting part are the more emotional labor a job requires.

The feeling rules

In order to understand emotional labor we have to see what determines the correct emotional response to a situation. In Hochschild’s book is being described a set of “feeling rules”, which Ashfort and Humphrey also called the “display rules”, rules that people use in order to identify what is the appropriate behavior. These feeling rules describe what the correct response for a work situation is and they can either be part of the job training or just manners. Most big companies usually have a set of policies that teach the employees how to conduct with customers. This case is about the written feeling rules.

A good example for written feeling rules is McDonalds that encourages sincerity and enthusiasm but also a sense of humor in their service personnel. But most of the feeling rules are unwritten as in the case of manners. The feeling rules are also connected with the cultural background. For example if two managers from different cultures meet they both act correctly for their cultures point of view but they could very easily offend the other one accidentally. In the Australian work place people would generally be polite and show respect regardless of how the interlocutor reacts.

The most evident moment when emotional labor occurs is when something goes wrong and the customers are unhappy and dissatisfied for a number of reasons. In most situations the employee should remain calm and polite even if the customer irritates or upsets the employee, as the case of most situations. This is the form of self control and the feeling rules are very important in these situations because the employees know they must be polite.

Ashforth and Humphrey define ten dimension that include trustworthiness, courtesy, approachability and understanding, a set of feeling rules by which employees operate, whilst the customers expect good service. The expectation of each dimension changes with the customers moods. But it is also possible that the customer has expectations that are unreal and cannot be satisfied. In this situation even if the employee works according to the feeling rules, the customer would not be satisfied.

Some service industries such as flight attendants, medical professionals or call center operators are the subject of higher expectations. These service industries are the ones that spend a lot of time interacting with people. This interaction includes the customer’s expectation to good service. For example good service from a flight attendant includes politeness, a caring attitude and happiness. The feeling rules would have to change according to the age of the passengers. For instance, a flight attendant will have to behave differently to a child, a teenager, their grandparents, etc.

People decide according to the feeling rules how to correct emotional response to a situation. But if something goes wrong in this system there are harmful consequences for the individual.

The aims of emotional labor

The main aim of emotional labor is a positive affective display in service interactions, such as smiling, politeness, friendliness, which are positively associated with important customer outcomes, such as intention to return, intention to recommend a store to others and the image of overall service quality.

Dealing with emotional labor

All service industries are connected to interaction with customers. These jobs require the employee to be nice and polite to the customer no matter how the customer treats him. This may lead in time to negative effects. Sandi Mann discusses in his book that having to manage your emotions in such way may lead to work stress. This stress may cause hypertension, heart diseases, even exacerbate cancer. This is because people usually tend to surface act. Surface acting can cause detachment from own emotions and individuals may suffer, as a result, burnout that may lead to dissatisfaction with the quality of work completed and doubt the effectiveness, this leading the sufferer to leave the job.

So imagine the case of a stewardess. If care and friendliness is completely lost due to emotional stress, burnout or so on, the key element of the job will be gone and the customers’ expectations will not be met. As consequence, customers will not come back and they will probably not recommend the airline anymore.

These serious side effects are most concern of human resource management. Human resources can prevent this emotional cycle by using different methods in different situations.

There is necessary to develop strategies in order to avoid problems with the employees. There are two types of strategies: organizational and individual strategies.

Organizational strategies

Some of the strategies that the management can use within a whole organization in order to reduce stress and therefore to avoid surface acting are as follows.

First of all, the management can organize meetings with the employees to discuss the extent of stress and to find out if stress is widely spread in their company. Additionally, by debriefing the employees a company can prove for stress-causing factors and so, conduct a survey and inspect the workplace for stress causing factors.

Another important aspect is to improve communication by hiring trained professionals or supervisors for the employees to talk to when they experience negative events so that they can receive advice to identify surface acting and receive good feeling rules by which to operate. Also in order to help the employees a company can use hotlines where the employees can call if they have problems.

A company can also improve job and organizational design in order to prevent stress-causing factors. For instance, a company can offer babysitters, cooking courses so that all the employees could come together and have some fun.

Individual strategies

There are also strategies for individuals, especially because employees tend to stress themselves out. To avoid this, they can do some physical exercises, in order to be active and to reduce stress symptoms. Also, hobbies are very good to find relaxation and amusement.

Additionally meditation is a good tool to gain inner peace and harmony, two basic elements for protection against stress.

To conclude, an assertiveness training gives the employee the chance to develop self-confidence and self-awareness so that the employees are able to establish themselves and to become accepted in the working group.

In order to apply everything stated in this paper we decided to take the example of emotional labor and Santa Clause.

Christmas exemplifies consumerism in western society and it is a period of traditional ritual activities. All over the world Christmas themed services tend to encourage fantasy that lead to enjoyment of the customer. The center of the store has the purpose to enhance the buying experience and increase the probability of purchase. The provision of a warm, emotional delivery by an employee, as observed by Sutton and Rafaeli, promotes sales when customers expect to receive such individual friendliness. Therefore in order for the customers to feel good, the presence of Santa Clause in the store becomes a seasonal public relations addition for the image of a shopping center.

Santa is a specialist public relations agent whose image relates to good looks, good sounds and good character. For children and adults, a visit to Santa is part of the Christmas ritual. A Santa interacts with individuals and in his work he has to deliver a personal performance of generosity and happiness. In order to be a Santa Clause people usually have to attend a Santa School. In this school the “actors” will learn some rules about how to be a Santa. One of the most important rules a Santa has to know is that he is not allowed to talk about politics, religion and life. In the Santa School the personality, experience and values of the actor are being mediated. This is because a Santa usually gets visited by all sorts of persons.

Each visit is unique and the Santa needs to know how to handle it. He also requires independence of thought and action in order to be able to address to all possible variations of topics and ages of the visitors. In addition, a Santa also learns that he is not allowed to make promises and must know the attributes of all current popular toys so that he can look authentic.

When Santa actors are comfortable with their roles, the case of volunteering being a Santa, it takes very little effort to shape feelings as they are similar with their own feeling. But nowadays there are a lot of people that must do this job in order to get paid. So the people that haven’t asked to do this job. And to those people the emotional labor required is huge. They always have to put a smiley face and be nice, because most of the visitors are children and they can get hurt very fast. So applying a part of the things that we’ve pointed out in our paper would probably motivate the Santa employee and makes this job easier.


Emotional labor is the control of one’s behavior to display appropriate emotions. Feeling rules help to execute it.

Surface acting happens when an individual has to fake emotions leading to health issues, such as frustration, burn-out, depression or emotional exhaustion. Deep acting happens when an individual actually feels that emotion.

Human Resources Management can prevent these problems by using different strategies such as employing trained professionals or supervisors. It must be pointed out that Human Resource Management has to make emotional labor to a source of job satisfaction and to enable the employees to act deeper.

All in all we believe that everyone in the sphere of action should deeply think about their own behavior and reactions in order develop self-awareness, and further to develop social awareness, so that individuals can become aware of other’s needs and wants.

To sum it up it is a big problem for the management to deal with emotional labor because for one working in a company and doing the same thing every day it will end up feeling like a routine that leads to surface acting.