Most jobs require their employees to manage their emotions in the workplace. Most of us have had the impulse to yell at our boss, whine in a meeting, curse at a co-worker, or even burst into tears on occasion—but we typically don’t, because we don’t want to get fired. In addition to squelching such impulses, many jobs also expect us to put on a “happy face” as well (such as flight attendants, customer service employees, or hotel managers), and actually convey a bright and positive demeanor—regardless of our mood or disposition.
The internal effort required to suppress your true emotions at work and fake others is aptly called “Emotional Labor”.
The High Costs of Emotional Labor
Jobs high in emotional labor are also costly to one’s psychological health. Indeed, emotional labor has been linked to job dissatisfaction, burnout, anxiety, and psychosomatic complaints. Now a new study in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology (link is external)extends these implications by investigating spill-over into the home and family life of people whose jobs involve a high level of ‘surface acting’ (having to suppress negative feelings and fake positive ones).
Researchers studied 197 hotel managers and their partners and found that higher emotional labor was related to higher partner discontent with their spouse’s job. Specifically, having to “fake it” at work results in mental and emotional exhaustion that impacts their ability to manage their moods and meet their partner’s expectations once they get home (in terms of chores, childcare, attention, affection, etc…). Their partners correctly blames the job for their spouse’s depleted emotional and mental resources and increase demands for the person to quit—adding even more tension into the scenario.
What You Can Do to Minimize the Impact of Emotional Labor
While you cannot change the demands of your job, there are steps you can take to minimize the emotional drain it causes.
1. Deep acting: The most common way people meet the emotional demands of their jobs is by ‘surface acting’—suppressing negative emotions and faking positive ones. A psychologically healthier approach involves the use of ‘deep acting’. Deep acting involves changing your underlying feelings (e.g., viewing your ability to “manage” disgruntled guests as an indication of your professionalism and a point of pride). Deep acting has been found to mitigate many of the stresses of emotional labor and reduce job-related emotional depletion.
2. Take breaks from emotional labor. Use lunch hours to socialize with colleagues of friends and “be yourself”. Such breaks can give you a respite from emotional strain and prevent the kind of depletion you get after being “on” all day.
3. Leave it at the office: Creating a psychological boundary between work and home can also reduce the emotional spill-over. Battle the impulse to indulge work-related thoughts and feelings at home, minimize the extent to which you’re “wired” to the office at home, and use your commute to listen to music or do something that allows you to shift your mood and focus from work-life to home-life.
4. Engage in leisure activities and stress management: Identify and schedule activities you enjoy that “recharge” you such as, yoga, working out, joining an athletics team, recreational pursuits, or intellectually stimulating events or classes.
5. Own it: Be aware of your emotional state and on days in which you feel especially depleted or exhausted, communicate to your spouse ahead of time and request a few minutes to “unwind” or “recharge” when you get home before jumping in to assist with the kids or dinner.
Emotional labor is present in all jobs that involve contact with other people, at least to some extent. Paying attention to when we feel emotionally depleted at work and taking step to mitigate its impact on our home-life is an important aspect of practicing good emotional hygiene and caring for our psychological health.