Front Line Service Workers (FLSW) interact directly with customers, in service organisations. In this interaction, he will have to perform emotional labour. Emotional labour is that work performed by the FLSW who displays his emotions and feelings in the organisation’s desired orientation (Morris, Feldman 1997). This concept differentiated between the organisation’s expectations on emotional display and employees’ actual experienced emotions.
Emotional Labour has repercussions upon the management, the customer and, no doubt, the employee himself- the performer of emotional labour. Hochschild (1983), who coined the term emotional labour, would emphasise in the FLSW being required to induce or suppress feelings, to sustain this apparent orientation. She states this brings about a number of negative impacts upon the employee, without any benefits. Many other researchers, and empirical data, would suggest a contrary notion as there are positive impacts.
The negative and positive impacts upon the FLSW are presented below, and how they come about. This is followed by the contingent factors that could enhance or alleviate these impacts. The emphasis on emotional labour has in part come about to maintain a differential edge. The competitive advantage gained from low costs and prices and high product quality, is increasingly being eroded away. Yet its importance is still crucial as it is considered as a given.
Emotional labour is carried out in many ways. Emotional Harmony (Rafaeli, Sutton 1987, Ashforth, Humphrey 1993) is the expression of genuine emotions, in which the FLSW’s true feelings are in line with the display rules. ‘A nurse who feels sympathetic at the sight of an injured child has no need act’ (Ashforth, Humphrey, 1993, pg94).The nurse will not feel having been taken advantaged of, used or feel bad. In fact, as she will be able help the child, be sympathetic and be herself, she is more likely to enjoy her work, a positive impact from the performance of emotional labour. Schuler, Sypher (2000) would call this emotional labour the provision of an altruistic service. The sense of gratification is a psychological benefit to the FLSW and can act as a reason for being a FLSW, or as an alleviator of pain suffered during the course of work or otherwise. A real estate agent (Schuler, Sypher 2000) explained: ‘It’s exciting when I know I’ve helped somebody or helped an officer. Um, it helps me.’
Customers, based on their liking and the societal norms (Rafaeli, Sutton 1987), have a certain degree of expectations on the level and quality of service provided to them by organisation. Organisations thus have an inclination to have their employees and FLSW to have this orientation towards them. Emotional Dissonance (Rafaeli, Sutton 1987) is the portrayal of emotion that is aligned with the feeling rules of the organisation. This central concept is ‘analogous to the principle of cognitive dissonance’ (Hochschild, 1983, pg90) where, as opposed to emotional harmony, the worker’s true feelings are not in parallel with the emotions exhibited. This concept can incorporate both Surface Acting and Deep Acting. It was in Hochschild’s view that these two ways were the only methods of performing emotional labour.
Surface acting refers to the FLSW acting in its most literal sense. They are pretending to smile and pretending to show empathy to the customer. This is the case where Hochschild’s definition of emotional labour fits in perfectly. Staff at the Sheraton is instructed to smile, be hospitable to them, and speak to them in particular acceptable ways (Boella, 1996, cited in Korczynski 2002). If the service worker’s frame of mind, or for another reason, is not in conjunction with this requirement, he may not only be unable to execute the job at hand well, but will feel emotionally exhausted (Hochschild, 1983) and strained.
In a call centre study conducted by Morris & Feldman, 1996, an emergency communication officer: ‘I shouldn’t make it sound like I was freaking out right there, you know, I had to be under control, but it, it was stressful’ (Schuler, Sypher 2000, pg64). A debt collector in Sutton’s study (1991) felt so much anger during the interaction with his customer, that he was thumping his desk and cursing after his talk. This illustrates the negative impact experienced by the debt collector. It should be noted that he was unable to portray these views as he was mean to follow the feeling rules.
Deep acting refers to when the worker tries to be aligned with the feeling rules through cognitive restructure, through possibly adopting a different perspective, and/or obtaining an in-depth understanding of the interaction. Actors do this regularly, changing their inner feelings and preconceptions, when they attempt to research around the subject of the film, and psyche themselves up for a role (Rafaeli, Sutton 1987). This leads to a behavioural change, and this on a long term basis leads to depersonalisation (Hochschild, 1983) – the worker will lose his personal identity and will be shaped upon his commercial requirements. ‘Given the repetitive and scripted nature of many service roles, one may develop habitual routines for surface and deep acting such that emotional labour becomes relatively effortless’ (Ashforth, Fried 1988, cited in Ashforth, Humphrey 1993, pg93). This notion is related to self estrangement (Hochschild, 1983) – the dehumanising effect of disaffection.
The third and last way that emotional labour is carried out is through Emotional Deviance (Rafaeli, Sutton 1987). This is contrary to emotional dissonance in the sense that the difference between the emotions felt and the feeling rules are much more pronounced and the emotional display is as per the emotions felt rather than those required by the organisation. This could lead to the customer complaining, as a young businessman did on Delta Airlines when the flight attendant was not smiling.
‘I’ll tell you what. You smile first, then I’ll smile….. Good…Now freeze and hold that smile for fifteen hours,’ (Hochschild, 1983, pg127) this not only shows the effect of emotional deviance but also the effect of the longevity of the interaction upon the interaction. This type of emotional labour being experienced could lead in one direction: ‘A rude flight attendant is likely to be fired’ or punish you for this act or the FLSW will quit himself. A student worker at a cosmetics firm: ‘I couldn’t bring myself to act happy and enthusiastic enough.’ She was unable to come to terms with the local feeling rules and thus quit working. This shows that she much rather be unemployed than be in an interaction that she cannot endure.
Stress, detachment, depersonalisation and self estrangement are all related and based on the idea of alienation developed by Marx- alienation from the product, but here the emotions are the product, leading to the alienation from the self. She contends that this leads, in the long term, to emotional exhaustion. The workers then become analogous to a ‘mechanical nut’ (Ritzer, 1996, pg139) and a ‘human robot’. The constant pressure of emotional labour is leading these labourers to turn to alcoholism, and drug abuse with increasing headaches, absenteeism and sexual dysfunction (Hochschild, 1983, cited in Rafaeli, Sutton 1987, pg31).
Her argument is flawed in terms of disregarding of the concept of social embeddedness of economic interactions (Granovetter, 1985, cited in Korczynski, 2002). This refers to the idea that FLSW can gain from the interaction with the customer on a social level, which is part of an economic interaction. An illustration to this is a jeweller who is situated in the Middle East and was extremely glad to see any person walk through his door and interact with him, during the time of the Gulf War. Though the state of affairs did play an important role, delight expressed was unequivocal.
Contrary to Hochschild’s notion of mere negative impacts arising from emotional labour, Schuler and Sypher (2000) state in their study on call centre workers that workers not only take away benefits from these interactions with customers but also seek it. ‘We need a good wreck tonight’ referred not to wanting someone involved in an accident but the interaction involved in such a call would give them a high. The researchers divide the positive impacts of service work into three parts: Emotional labour as a comic relief, as fix, and as an altruistic service. This makes the job fun, exciting, and rewarding.