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Emotional Labor and Dissonance in the Workplace: Definition & Effect on Employees

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  • 0:05 Definition of Emotional Labor
  • 1:31 Types of Emotional Labor
  • 2:19 Effect on Employees
  • 3:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Lombardo
Emotions play an important part in how employees function during the work day. Emotional labor and emotional dissonance reflect how challenging it can be for employees to maintain a helpful, caring attitude when inside, they may be dealing with negative personal or work issues.

Definition of Emotional Labor

Have you ever worked a job in customer service where you had to deal with a very rude person? Were you able to control your emotions and still conduct your job? Harry works as a customer service agent for Spiro Airlines. Every day, he has to handle dozens of customer requests - from the routine to disgruntled people.

No matter what personal and work issues and emotions Harry has to deal with, he has to put on a happy face for excellent job reviews. He needs to be able to regulate his emotions, and this is called emotional labor. In other words, it is a way of emotion regulation in which employees control their emotions and feelings at work.

Many customer service workers, especially, have to regulate their emotions on the job to be able to appear professional when dealing with negative issues and disgruntled or rude customers. Emotional dissonance is a negative feeling that can develop when a person views an emotion as a potential conflict to his or her identity.

Harry's personal life was in shambles last year when his wife left him one weekend morning. He had to go to work on Monday morning and act accordingly to be happy and polite to airline customers. Inside, Harry was devastated and depressed. He had a feeling of uneasiness as his real emotion and his fake emotion were drastically at odds with each other.

Types of Emotional Labor

There are two specific types of emotional labor, and they are called deep acting and surface acting. Deep acting is about a person trying to feel a specific emotion that they are thinking about in their mind. For example, before his wife left him, Harry used to think about her and their plans while working. This would put Harry in a happy mood, and he would respond to customers' issues with enthusiasm and politeness.

Surface acting, however, is when a person has to fake emotion to meet certain social or work rules. For example, the Monday after Harry's wife left him, he was very upset. His supervisor had no clue that Harry was in personal turmoil since he still provided upbeat and positive customer service to all of his airline customers.

Effect on Employees

Emotional labor and emotional dissonance affect how an employee performs at work. Emotional labor is an indicator of how employees can handle adversity at work if they let their emotions hurt their work. Emotional dissonance occurs when employees are not able to control their emotions. Their real emotions become an obstacle to job performance.

Managers can identify workers who are having emotional dissonance and provide an outlet and training to help them deal with personal issues. This way, the employee is able to perform on the job positively by solving personal issues.

Employees who are able to utilize deep acting are very productive, positive and are able to avoid job burnout. Harry was known for his positive emotions at work and was Customer Service Rep of the Year for his ability to calm disgruntled passengers and handle negative stress.

Some employees can perform their job very well even though they are utilizing surface acting. Studies have shown that the more confident the employee is with their job performance, the easier it is to fake emotions. Companies that have demanding customer service jobs need to identify employees who have the confidence to use surface acting, no matter what the situation.

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