Emotion Work

The idea of “emotion work” recognises that our feelings are shaped by society. Our culture determines how we understand, discuss and act out our emotions. Sociologist Arlie Hochschild has conducted decades of research on how emotion work impacts our jobs. For example she studied how flight attendants are expected to remain calm while irate passengers are rude and make excessive demands. Flight attendants are not paid for this emotion work. They are expressly paid to provide customer service. The additional emotion work is taxing on their personal health and psychological wellbeing. This type of invisible emotional labour affects people in different jobs, but especially impacts women.

Hochschild writes in the journal Contexts:

“Over the last 40 years, the number of service sector jobs has grown. By my estimate, some six out of 10 of those service jobs call for substantial amounts of emotional labour. This work doesn’t fall equally upon the two genders; roughly a quarter of men but half of women work in jobs heavy in emotional labor. Emotional labour has hidden costs, and these fall more heavily on women.”

The work that individuals put into managing their own and other people’s emotions is therefore gendered. Women are conditioned to remain calm, placate others and even smile as clients take out their frustrations on them. Customer service workers are dehumanised because their job expects them to put up with abuse. This type of work takes a heavy emotional toll on women, especially in caring professions.

Office settings also involve a level of emotion work; we see in the way we treat others. The TV show How I Met Your Mother humorously depicted “the chain of screaming,” which is how each level of the management hierarchy yells at their subordinates to alleviate personal grievances instead of dealing with problems in a constructive manner.