Emotional labour

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A teacher I work alongside shared the concept of Emotional Labour with me, which I find very pertinent in our lives and work today. This week I thought I would share some thoughts for your reflection. 

In 1983 Arlie Hochschild developed the notion of Emotional Labour, defining it as the management of feelings. The notion of 'labour' associated with this, is the effort it takes to manage one's feelings.

We encounter emotional labour every day. Sometimes the 'labour' part requires more of our energy than other times.

My wondering is, what if we are in a constant state of high emotional labour?  How does that affect our wellbeing/hauora? How might we address that?

An extract from Hochschild's "The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling" reads

Working with children with special needs is full of challenges ( Robertson, Chamberlain, & Kasari, 2003;Yell, Katsiyannis, Drasgow & Herbst, 2003) and demands patience, empathy, and acceptance. The task of helping students with special educational needs (SEN) is often confronted with unpredictable situations such as suddenly students go berserk, oppose, have tantrums, or even become aggressive and attack the teachers while the teachers must withhold their negative emotions ( Hochschild, 2012; Johnson et al., 2005;Stansfeld, Rasul, Head, & Singleton, 2011). They become the reasons why the teachers who work for children with special needs tend to have high work stress and are at risks of suffering mental health problems ( Dollard, Dormann, Boyd, Winefield, & Winefield, 2003; Oginska-Bulik, 2005). 

The NZ government is beginning to realise the need for more support for students with special educational needs. Whilst working with such children is hugely rewarding, I also think we need to recognise the emotional toll it can have on their teachers. How is their emotional wellbeing being supported?

Hochschild also indicated that burnout was a likely outcome for emotional labourers who identified too completely with their jobs (also see Maslach, 1982; Maslach & Jackson, 1981). This is shown when work becomes all-encompassing and there is no down-time or space from it. Often one's identity is intertwined so tightly with one's job, there are no other facets to the person's life. What is the culture of the organisation around work-life blend? How might that person open their world a little wider beyond work?

For leaders also, emotional labour is a constant. Often leaders are required to foster an emotional state in another person while at the same time managing ones own emotions (Steinberg; Figart, 1999:13 [2] ). This can be tiring and can also test one's patience. Where is the professional support for leaders to be able to off-load, debrief and regain perspective? 

These are just a few ways in which emotional labour plays-out in our work-lives. As you go through this coming week, consider

  • Where are you investing a lot of emotional labour?
  • How is that affecting you?
  • What could you do differently, or how might you fill your own emotional wellbeing 'cup'?