Effects of Emotional Labor on Physical and Mental Health

Mrunal Belvalkar Jan 9, 2019
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Emotional labor is just another concept that shows how fickle the human mind is and how easily it is affected by what's happening around. Though it is conducive to business, emotional labor eventually takes its toll on the physical and sometimes mental health of the employees.
I'm manipulating the audience. I'm making sure people sympathize.
- Melinda Clarke
That may have made you feel like a puppet. But take it in the right sense, see it in the right light, and you will have gripped onto the concept of emotional labor. It encompasses the tactics to manipulate and control your emotions so that they are in accordance with the policies or code-of-conduct of your profession or job.
The tactics of emotional labor are defined often by the effect desired from the consumers, customers, clientele or even the employees themselves.
Emotional labor can often be looked upon as a business strategy where the company or institution uses body language and our subconscious ability to read and interpret it to control the buyers and hence generate an overall feeling of positivity. Buyers would hence be attracted to that institute, company, etc. more than they are to others.

About Emotional Labor

The term 'emotional labor' was first coined by the sociologist Arlie Hochschild. She defined the term as "management of feeling to create a publicly facial and bodily display".
Many companies and organization have something that are called 'display rules' wherein the employees are expected to express only or at least a certain set of emotions. Emotional labor, in such case, could be a part of this. It is also in a way a part of office etiquette.
Usually professions or jobs that include direct face-to-face contact with the customers/ consumers, or wherein employees would be engaged in making conversation with the customers (like a receptionist who deals with people face-to-face and over the phone) are the ones that call for emotional labor. An alternative term for it could be emotion regulation.

Physical Effects

Emotional labor can be quite draining physically given that one has to do it on a daily basis, for 9 hours straight, day in-day out for 5 days a week.
Physical fatigue may set in as a result of intense emotional labor. Other effects include minor health problems like headaches, muscular pain, and an overall feeling of tire. It can make you lose your stamina for work.
If prolonged, these headaches can lead to more serious health problems such as migraines, loss of appetite, insomnia and other. Most of these effects observed physically are the manifestations of emotional effects brought on by emotional labor.

Emotional/ Mental Effects

Emotional labor calls for manipulation of your emotions. At times, this can translate into suppressing your true emotions, faking emotions, changing your true nature and putting on a mask of being someone else.
Emotional labor may call for an employee who is actually an introvert to talk and appear friendly and approachable to others. It may call for an extrovert to be reserved. Emotional labor can even demand an emotional person to act detached and be unaffected by the client's emotional state (as in case of psychologists, therapists and counselors).
This can cause a lot of angst and dislike among employees. It can also lead to job dissatisfaction. The most significant of effect includes burnout. Burnout is when you are emotionally and mentally so fatigued and exhausted that you lose interest in everything - even daily activities. You just sink into a low.

Contributing Factors

Emotional labor can become distressing due to other contributing factors too. If you are currently occupied with a job you don't like much, having to engage in emotional labor will only add to your anxiety.
Superiors, colleagues, work environment can all magnify the stress brought upon by emotional labor. Work-related stress is usually bound to add to that of emotional labor. This is especially the case when it comes to jobs where you have to be politically correct all the time - like when you are an actor/actress.

Jobs that Call For Emotional Labor

There are many professions and jobs that call for the employees to rely on emotional labor. Read ahead to know about a few of the jobs involving emotional labor.

Nurse and Hospital Staff

Waitresses and Hospitality Professionals

Counselors and Therapists

Psychologists

Actors

Receptionists

Air-hostesses

All of these jobs call on the employees to alter their emotional state of mind and create one that is happy, welcoming, and congenial. They are expected to 'Serve With a Smile', as the adage goes. Their appearance has to be spick and span, clean, presentable. Their language has to be polite, their tone friendly, the manner comely.
They have to be suave. In the bid to be all this, the employees, many a time, have to put on fake smiles and wear fake emotions on their face. In short, they have to work on their emotions. Though important with respect to the job and the profession, emotional labor is something that can and does take its toll on us in the long run.
One 'has to' do certain things for the sake of one's job and profession, but we should never manipulate our emotions and do things when it comes to people in our lives - when we're with our family and friends... why should it be any different at work? It is one of the things that we should have been able to nip in the bud before it became an unwritten rule.
But as the saying goes - if you change it, you gotta live with it. So, here are a few tips to manage emotional labor - be yourself when you are at home; take the time out to do things you enjoy doing; engage yourself in some stress-busting activities; if nothing else, sweat it out (this will help you remain fit too); and learn to laugh at life! It works!
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