When I was sixteen years old, I took up a position in the food service industry to gain some experience of ‘the working world’. After several interviews, I was put in charge of the children’s section at a family-friendly restaurant that specialised in international cuisine. It was my first experience as an employee and, exacerbated by the responsibility of taking care of many different children, a very emotional one. Particularly difficult situations when the children were disobedient and dirtied the play area, leaving me to clean up after them, evoked strong emotional reactions in me and my colleagues. Emotions are an integral part of our lives, and keenly affect our experiences at work as well. The emotional aspect of an organisation is therefore as important as its other aspects, but is all too often ignored. The following essay will help to analyse how emotions at work, emotional labour and aesthetic labour can help in the understanding of such feelings and situations in an organisation.
Emotions At Work
Emotions influence just about everything we do in the workplace. According to Mcshane, Olekalns and Travaglione (2010), emotions are psychological, behavioural and physiological episodes experienced toward an object, person or event that create a state of readiness. In other words, emotions work and change to suit different situations. It is part of an everyday social exchange, and the giving and receiving of emotion at work is not always easy or smooth. In fact, it often varies according to the situation and context. Take for example a comparison between the first day of work and the rest of the days before payday – the first day of work is usually filled with enthusiasm and excitement. However, the subsequent days are usually characterised by dread when going to work, especially if there are complex or unhappy situations at work. As payday approaches, however, moods are generally lifted. learning to understand and manage the emotions experienced personally or by one’s subordinates or in the organisation as a whole is critical for organisational success. In the complicated situation I outlined above, my emotional reactions also varied according to the sequence of events. I was excited starting work, as it was my first experience of paid work, and I had always enjoyed working with children. However, when faced with disobedient children who urinated in the play area, and the expectation from my managers and customers to clean up the children’s mess while still remaining polite and caring to the children and their parents, I soon became frustrated and unhappy. I even began to dread going to work. However, this was eased by my manager, who was always careful to recognise my efforts and often praised my work – this never failed to lift my spirits. Parents who took the effort to thank me for taking care of their children while they played also made me feel appreciated and made me look forward to going to work.
Emotional labour is the management of emotions to create a publicly facial and bodily display. It requires workers to conceal their genuine emotions in order to display emotions which are consistent with work role expectations (Glomb & Tews 2004). For example, in the organisation I worked for, it was required for every employee to smile, keeping the motto: “the customer is always right” in mind, as it made the speaking sound more pleasant. It usually occurs in the context of an unequal relationship between the powerful customer and the not so powerful service provider.
There are several ways of performing emotional labour. Two of the ways are surface acting and deep acting. Surface acting involves behavioural compliance with the display rules without any attempt to internalise these rules. In other words, these emotions are faked. Surface acting usually occurs when one simply presents a “good-employee’’ facade, or ‘‘act’’ in the appropriate way at work to meet...
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