“I’ve been coming here for the past three days and you keep telling me the network is down!” “You are just useless. What do they pay you for, anyway?” “We have left our work to be here and you are telling us you are going for lunch? You do not take us seriously, do you?”
Do these sound familiar? Have you been at the receiving end of a frustrated customer’s retorts? How do you handle your emotions in these situations to successfully carry out your job, while meeting the client’s needs?
Irrespective of the situation, an employee is expected to ‘respond and behave well’ towards a client. A nurse is expected to remain cheerful and positive around her patients. A policeman is expected to exercise restraint in the face of a recalcitrant person. The receptionist has to put on a smile all the time. All of these are classic examples of Emotional Labour.
When you face angry clients or generally unpleasant customers, Emotional Labour can be particularly challenging. A large part of that challenge comes from the need to hide your real emotions, and continue to ‘smile and nod your head,’ even when receiving negative or critical feedback
Arlie Hochschild, Professor Emireta of Sociology, coined the term, ‘Emotional Labour’ in 1983. According to Hochschild, Emotional Labour requires face-to-face or voice-to-voice contact with the public, it requires the worker to produce an emotional state in another person, and allows the employer, through training and supervision, to exercise a degree of control over the emotional activities of employees.
Hochschild further contends that this leads to employees being estranged from their emotions in the workplace in order to satisfy the requirements of the job. Besides, isn’t the employer obliged to ensure that everything the employee does is ultimately raking in profits for the organisation?
Emotional Labour can be daunting for employees when they have to ‘put on a show in order to make the client happy. It breeds unnecessary stress and puts pressure on the employees to act so rigidly in their interactions at the workplace
Ultimately, two schools of thought come in; the employee either fakes or pretends in order to interact with others or becomes genuinely interested in meeting the emotional demands of the work. Some employees are able to bridge the gap between their emotions and that of others easily, which enables them to truly interact and deal with clients in a meaningful way. On the other hand, some employees struggle with managing their emotions and may find it difficult ‘acting out’ the emotional requirements of the job.
In light of this, it is important for employees to become self-aware of their emotions. Our ability to recognise and respond appropriately to different social situations is very crucial when dealing with others. People with more negative personalities and lower self-awareness tend to have the hardest time dealing with emotional conflict – and they probably experience emotional burnout more easily.
In order to manage Emotional Labour, employees can adopt coping skills such as having a balanced social life outside work, developing high levels of emotional intelligence, and having in-depth self-awareness. In doing so, we become more equipped in our interactions with clients and even work colleagues.
We should strive to listen to understand instead of listening to respond. Through this, we gain new perspectives in dealing with the most difficult person.
For organisations, it is vital to equip employees with the necessary problem-solving skills in order to curb any unpleasant or difficult situation that may arise. It will also enable employees reduce negative emotions when faced with unpredictable situations.
In addition, organisations can adopt the buffering technique. This is where particular employees are assigned to the front desk to deal with customers before they interact with back-end employees. For instance, it is likely to experience high levels of customer agitation in an organisation that relies on technology for its services. The network goes down and because the client may not be privy to what goes on behind the scenes, he/she is likely to pour out the frustrations on the front-desk employee. Ideally, the front desk person should be able to manage emotions of the client before redirecting the person to the appropriate department for any further interaction.
Also, staff assistance programmes such as stress management can go a long way in helping employees deal with Emotional Labour. In managing Emotional Labour at the workplace, we are better equipped to meet the demands of our work, engage with our colleagues in a professional manner and ultimately, serve our clients better.
By: Mercy Anang
Ghana Revenue Authority