How to Lighten the Load of Emotional Labor in the Workplace

What is emotional labor? How can you identify it in your workplace and combat its potentially detrimental effects before they even set in? Emotional labor is a heavy load to bear in any setting, but it is especially daunting in a workplace setting, where several competing factors — social, cultural, financial — square off with each other on a daily basis. 

 

Emotional labor has come to be defined as the process of managing feelings and expressions in order to fulfill the emotional requirements of a role, whether at home, at work, or in community settings. It’s also known as the often overlooked work of caring, about the feelings and experiences of others, about the goals you’ve committed to together, and about the strength of the team and the organization at its outcome. 

 

The study of emotional labor began in the workplace, where emotional regulation is routinely required to successfully interact with superiors, colleagues, and customers. This essential exercise calls for continual analysis and careful decision making in expression of emotion, demanding a deep understanding and thoughtful modulation on the part of the individual. This is done so as to produce a certain feeling in the colleague, customer, or client, which will allow the professional, as well as the overall company or organization, to succeed.

 

The Toll of Emotional Labor

 

The term “emotional labor” was first minted by the renowned sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild, who opined, “the expression and management of emotion are social processes. What people feel and express depend on societal norms, one’s social category and position and cultural factors.”

 

A heavy weight, indeed. 

 

In sports circles, it may be known as “keeping your game face on” or “never let them see you sweat.” But how does a linebacker — let alone a workplace leader — achieve this enviable state when what they’re doing is not in alignment with the way that they feel? The answer, like most things in life, is deliberate practice.

 

Emotional intelligence is becoming increasingly important in today’s workplace. In addition to job-related hard skills (those you learn on the job or in a classroom setting), soft skills (i.e. emotional intelligence) are absolutely necessary in navigating today’s complex workplace. In fact, the stakes may never have been higher than in this moment.

 

A global pandemic. Social unrest. A looming political watershed moment. And all of the existential stressors that come along with being a human being living on the planet in 2020. It’s all adding together to make work a hot button topic like it’s never been before.

 

Careers That Demand a High Level of Emotional Intelligence

 

Every modern-day job is dependent on a healthy EQ; however, many client-facing positions are dramatically more demanding on a professional’s emotional acuity and agility. In situations where intentional interactions between people are paramount, being able to modulate one’s own emotional labor can be the difference between longevity and lassitude.

 

Several careers that are highly prone to issues with managing emotional labor:

 

 

How Simulations Help Employees Handle the Burden of Emotional Labor

 

When faced with situations that require heavy emotional lifting, an individual can react in myriad ways. One can “surface act,” in which they respond by going through the motions of resolving an issue while still feeling the emotional toll. Conversely, they can “deep act,” tapping into their core values to truly empathize and connect with the other person and the source of their current stress. Surface acting can lead to anxiety, burnout, and turnover, while deep acting is the very definition of meaningful change that leads to long-term professional and personal success.

 

By enacting scenarios that call for an increased amount of emotional intelligence, virtual reality simulations place the learner in recognizable, realistic situations that require their full immersion and attention. The learner is repeatedly able to access their own deep well of emotional intelligence to guide them through tense interactions to navigate an outcome that is satisfactory and successful for all parties. 

 

At Mursion, practice makes permanent. Our virtual reality simulations combine the best of both worlds: Learners interact with avatars, which creates an inherently safe space to try on, test out, and embody different solutions. However, those very same avatars are guided by actual trained humans (Mursion’s highly specialized Simulation Specialists), who maneuver each learning session to develop and hone invaluable skills that serve professionals exceedingly well in today’s high-stakes, make-or-break workplace situations.