Catch 22: Emotional Labor
Sun, April 11, 2021

Catch 22: Emotional Labor

In 1983, sociologist Arlie Hochschild coined the term 'emotional labor.' He defined it as the ways low-wage female workers regulate their emotions to shape the emotions of others in order to complete a job / Photo by: Dean Drobot via 123RF

 

In 1983, sociologist Arlie Hochschild coined the term 'emotional labor.' He defined it as the ways low-wage female workers regulate their emotions to shape the emotions of others in order to complete a job. His typical example was flight attendants who maintain an upbeat demeanor while calming nervous passengers to diffuse potentially tense situations. Today, the definition has shifted to include the kind of emotional work normally handled by women in relationships, at home and at work. Women are expected to remember birthdays and anniversaries, support the ambition of a loved one, dry children’s tears, listen to friends troubles, plan and organize office social events, shrug off co-workers’ bad behavior when they are in bad moods, and a whole lot more. In other words, emotional labor is the invisible work women do to keep those around them comfortable and happy, without concern for their own emotional well-being.

Emotional labor can be so insidious, it penalizes women if they do not perform them, whereas men are praised for doing any type of emotional labor, no matter how small. It holds women back by reinforcing double standards, creating an emotionally charged exhausting day. The subtle inequalities are borne from the expectations that women will silently and gently bear the brunt of emotional labor for the needs of those around them.

Why Women Are Doing More Emotional Labor

From early on, boys are taught about hierarchy, how to be aggressive and assertive, and how winning is the most important thing. On the other hand, girls are taught to care about others, be compassionate, and get along well with others. 

These early lessons allow boys to develop their confidence and assertive skills while girls develop their empathy and people skills. From childhood to adulthood, the same messages are reinforced and carried on. 

The Price of Emotional Labor

It takes a great toll on women to manage emotions at home and at work. Women are overwhelmed with calming their children’s tantrums and anxieties, listening to their husband’s concerns, and doing household chores, leaving them little energy and emotional capacity to deal with their own worries, concerns, and feelings.

Women’s emotional well-being can suffer, and so do their time and financial status. Women report that they waste time and lose financial opportunities when managing the emotions of others. This invisible labor takes women away from their duties and jobs while men work under no such expectations.

It takes a great toll on women to manage emotions at home and at work / Photo by: primagefactory via 123RF

 

Making Emotional Labor Visible and Equitable

For generations, women have been running families and relationships. Since emotional labor requires consideration and sincerity, a lot of men are hesitant to take it on. However, equal relationships at home and at work need both men and women to put in their efforts and time. One person can never carry the load single-handedly. The imbalance of emotional labor will lead the structure to collapse.

Getting emotional labor visible and equitably shared is not easy, but it is doable. Here are some suggestions to reduce the burden of emotional labor among women at home and at work.

- Emotional labor is indiscernible partly because it is not considered real work. It is high time to call it 'work'. If possible, try to incorporate emotional labor duties in job descriptions and make the extra effort to recognize them openly in employees’ job performance assessments.

- Broadcast emotional work taken care of around the house and workplace. This may help others see and appreciate the efforts you have made.

- Turn a blind eye to problems that are not yours. Do not fall into the trap of solving other people’s problems and concerns for them. For starters, if your husband tells you to make a dental appointment for him, react by texting him back the phone number of the dental office.

For generations, women have been running families and relationships. Since emotional labor requires consideration and sincerity, a lot of men are hesitant to take it on / Photo by: puhhha via 123RF

 

Male co-workers, in particular, can diminish the burden of emotional labor on women co-workers by: 

- Restraining and restricting interruptions during conversations. Women are often interrupted during discussions, leaving them fewer talking points than their male co-workers. A research study revealed that men dominate (75%) meetings or discussions. Their “talking over” renders women’s ideas ignored or rephrased by a man. Male colleagues should rectify this imbalance by being aware and speaking up when male co-workers interrupt women. 

- Oftentimes, emotional labor is eased by simply listening. Take a back seat in the discussion and listen attentively to their ideas. This ensures that their ideas are raised, heard, and recognized. 

- Stop asking women colleagues to do jobs for you like taking notes or photocopying. Do not demand that women organize office social events. Suggest rotating the task of organizing to both men and women workers instead of solely putting the responsibility on the women.

- The workplace is a male-dominated domain. Slowly create some cultural and structural changes that will benefit all workers. For example, speak up for women in instances where they are put in uncomfortable positions. Speaking up is necessary to change that culture. Remaining silent and accepting will promote a toxic work culture, endangering women’s careers.

Men should take note of what needs to be done at home and at work. Start with doing your fair share of household tasks, and share responsibility for the life you share with others. Pursue equality.