publication date: 1983
pages: 307 (including back matter)
This book coined a term that recently came back into vogue: “emotional labor.” Emotional labor is the emotion work that most people do every day. It is schooling our face and body language to reflect only the emotion we want to reflect or, perhaps, even changing what we feel on the inside to better fit into or accept a situation. It is also the things we do to invoke or change emotions in others. The author, Arlie Hochschild, discussed emotional labor in broad terms, but the bulk of her discussion was focused on emotional labor as it is required or encouraged by our employers.
As Western society shifted from an agrarian economy to an industrial economy and now to a service-related economy, the amount of people who deal with other people at their job has increased. And anyone who deals with people at their job has probably been expected to perform emotional labor. To smile at customers and seem friendly and deferential. To inspire a sense of gratitude and understanding from a customer. These aren’t always things that we want to do for a customer and they are rarely discussed using precise terms like “emotional labor.” Instead, they are either not discussed at all or are couched in terms like “professionalism” and “customer service.” An example that Hochschild used often was the work of flight attendants.
This book had a lot of great points and made me rethink my concept of what an employee is obligated to do on the job. As Hochschild worded it:
Where the customer is king, unequal exchanges are normal, and from the beginning customer and client assume different rights to feeling and display. The ledger is supposedly evened by a wage.
She further stated:
When a flight attendant feels angry at a passenger . . . what does her anger signal? According to the teacher in [Delta Airline’s] Training, it indicates that she is mislocating herself in the world, that she is seeing the man who demands a smile in the wrong sort of way – that she is too oversensitive, too touchy. It does not signal a perception about how emotional display maintains unequal power between women and men, and between employees and employers. It indicates something wrong with the worker, not something wrong with the assumptions of the customer or the company. In this way the company’s purposes insinuate themselves into the way workers are asked to interpret their own feelings.
Do those things seem right? Why should I act and feel differently just because I’m getting paid? I enjoyed most of Hochschild’s discussions and conclusions.
However, her writing could be quite dense and confusing. She would throw out concepts that I hadn’t heard of and pile them on top of each other. A lot of discussions seemed irrelevant; or maybe I just didn’t understand them. Also, some of her endnotes were weird and completely off topic. Or sometimes her conclusions wouldn’t follow logically from her statements or data.
There were also some points she made that I just didn’t buy. For example:
The code of chivalry is said to require protection of the weaker by the stronger. Yet a boss may bring flowers to his secretary or open the door for her only to make up for the fact that he gets openly angry at her more often than he does at a male equal or superior; and more often that she does at him. The flowers symbolize redress, even as they obscure the basic maldistribution of respect and psychic cost.
You can’t just throw out a statement like that without any data, evidence, or explanation.
Overall, though, this book was very enlightening. I would recommend it to anyone who feels like they put on a face at work or anyone who manages those who put on a face at work.
4/6: worth reading
I couldn’t find any reviews for this book online, but here are its Amazon and Powell’s pages: