Archive for March, 2010

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The entrance of emotion into considerations of work and organisations has occurred alongside other significant developments concerning the expansion of the service sector, growing competition among service providers, significant proportion of manufacturing jobs that rely heavily on contacts with customers and outside suppliers, the ‘feminisation’ of local labour markets and increased recognition which has been given to customer relations as a vital part of competitiveness. This has led to a greater need to focus on the expression of desired emotions in the service and other encounters and has placed emotional labour at the forefront. These debates have raised complex issues concerning the identity of emotional labourers, the ways in which emotional labour and emotion work is performed and how it is bought and sold in the market. In other words, these themes relate in different ways to the identity, performance and commodification of emotional labour. According to Hochschild (1983), emotional labour (hereinafter: EL) is the expression of organisationally desired emotions. Emotional labor may involve enhancing, faking, or suppressing emotions to modify the emotional expression (Grandey, 2000).

Dimensions of EL

Morris & Feldman (1996) conceptualized EL in terms of 4 dimensions: frequency of appropriate emotional display, attentiveness to required display rules, variety of emotions to be displayed and emotional dissonance (generated by having to express organizationally desired emotions not genuinely felt).

Frequency of appropriate emotional display refers to the fact that stakeholders are more likely to do business with the organization, when the bonds of liking, trust and respect have been established through employee behaviour. Additionally, the more often a work role requires socially appropriate emotional displays, the greater organization’s demands for regulated displays of emotions. The second dimension of EL is attentiveness to required display rules. More attentiveness to required display rules demands more psychological energy and effort, and consequently more EL. Duration and intensity of emotional display are positively correlated. Longer interactions with clients lead to higher levels of burnout (e.g. long-haul passenger flights). Intensity of ED determines whether clients change their behaviour during service interactions (deep acting vs. surface acting – Hochschild). Thirdly, the greater is the variety of emotions to be displayed, the greater the amount of EL is expected. Middleton (1989) defines emotional dissonance as a conflict between genuinely felt emotions and emotions that are required to be displayed in organizations.


Emotional labour may exert positive and negative outcomes. Ashforth and Humphrey (1993) suggest that it may facilitate task effectiveness (by regulating interaction and removing personal problems) and self-expression (allowing oneself  to “act out”). On the other hand, it may give rise to expectations of good service that cannot be met, trigger emotive dissonance and impair one’s sense of authentic self (the so-called self-alienation).  Hochschild also mentions drug and alcohol abuse, absenteeism and eventual alienation from one’s genuine feelings. Adelman (1989) states that jobs requiring high amounts of EL are reported to result in significantly lower job satisfaction, lower self-esteem, poorer health and more depressive symptoms. Erickson (1991) indicates that the effect of EL on well-being depends on job autonomy (the greater autonomy, the lower the negative effects of EL).

Thus, organisations should provide adequate support to their employees in order to prevent burnout, withdrawal and negative work attitudes and at the same time boost their work performance. At an organisational level, the aim is to provide employees with means to help them cope with effects of stressful conditions (if/when they face them), e.g. through employee assistance programmes. Another way of dealing with this is reactive, by redesigning of working environment to reduce or get rid of stressors. Employees themselves may tackle this issue by using stress management techniques or by changing their working environment.

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We all know, the world of work is changing in the 24/7 society; customers expect service at times that suit them. More and more people have to juggle responsibilities at home and in the workplace. The reasons why work-to-life balance (hereinafter: W-L balance) has become an issue of great concern can be found in the following most obvious facts: more working women – an increasing number of couples depend on both partners earning (there is less than 15% of “traditional family structures” – Veiga 2004), increase in lone parenting (it will reach 25% by 2010 in the UK), ageing population and the overall population changes (several millions people need to take care of the elderly), increase in working hours, technological advances (continuous accessibility; one in three partners say it affects their personal life) etc.

W-L conflict is a type of inter-role conflict where demands of the work roles and demands of the non-work roles are mutually incompatible (Parasuraman & Greenhaus, 1997).

How Can Organisations Help?

Organisations can use numerous different strategies to help their employees maintain their W-L balance such as time-based strategies (flexible work schedules), information-based strategies (seminars), financial assistance (vouchers), direct services (on-site facilities) (Sutton et al).

The CIPD offers several brilliant ideas to consider: extended leave and other off-work arrangements (sabbaticals, study leave etc.), increasing levels of support (employee assistance programmes, childcare loans/allowances, workplace-based crèches, medical centre …) and encouraging wellness to improve health (health screening, on-site exercise facilities, fitness tickets etc.).

Most certainly, employers need to be increasingly open and creative in their employment practices. If they are not, they will neither attract nor keep the people and skills they need.

Business Cases Illustrating Benefits for Employers

Lambert’s study (2000) proved that the more useful employees find W-L policies, the more likely they will demonstrate high organisational citizenship behaviour (OCB). According to Organ (1988), OCB is defined as “individual behavior that is discretionary, not directly or explicitly recognized by the formal reward system, and in the aggregate promotes the efficient and effective functioning of the organization”. In accordance with the Social Exchange Theory and the Norm of Reciprocity, if employers treat employees well, employees will feel the need to compensate by engaging in OCB behaviours.

British Telecom, for example, found that after introducing flexible working, they get more flexible workforce, employees are happier and more responsive, retention is improved (98% of women return to BT from their maternity leave), absenteeism is reduced, productivity is increased (they noticed an increase of 15-31%), customers are happier (easier to serve their needs 24/7), costs are reduced (office-based workers are more expensive), and improved retention saves £5m a year on recruitment and induction.

Another example is Lloyds TSB where an online job-sharing website has helped to transform the bank’s traditional long hours culture, enabling managers to focus on individual productivity not the hours spent at the workplace. Seniority is no longer seen as a barrier to flexible working, and flexible working is no longer seen as being reserved only for mothers.

A possible policy agenda for the future could begin by recognising that all conceptions of human flourishing depend on health as a primary good and that work can have a positive or negative impact on health.

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