Emotional Labour and Gendered Occupational Segregation Essay

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Emotional labour is a common phenomenon, especially in service industries. Broadly speaking, emotional labour means that an individual at the workplace displays positive or organisationally-acceptable emotions regardless of their true emotional state (Hochschild, 1983). When interacting with customers, for instance, a customer service employee is required to treat customers with empathy, kindness, and calmness irrespective of how the employee is feeling or how the customer behaves or talks. Portraying negative emotions such as anger, frustration, and hostility would potentially injure the reputation of the organisation or negatively affect customer confidence in the organisation. Fundamentally, emotional labour means that while at work, the experience and articulation of feelings should be separated in the sense that one is expected to display the desired emotions, not the emotions they are actually experiencing (Ward and McMurray, 2016).

Does emotional labour mean that service organisations must consider employees with the ability to manage their emotions? And if they have to, what kind or nature of employees are these? A closer look at many service organisations reveals that most jobs, especially those that involve interacting with customers, are occupied by women. Airline, hospitality, and customer service jobs provide good examples. For instance, a call made to a customer service hotline is more likely to be answered by a woman than a man. Similarly, airlines are more likely to employ women in frontline and flight attendant positions. The same trend is replicated in hospitality organisations such as restaurants and hotels, where majority of the waiting and customer service tend to be women. In essence, there tends to be noticeable gender-based segregation when it comes to service work. Such segregation persists even with tremendous legislative advancements such as the Equality Act, which prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of gender and other protected characteristics.

This raises an important question: why do service organisations prefer a certain gender over another when it comes to certain jobs? Though contention remains, it has been established that women tend to be better emotional labourers than men (Taylor and Tyler, 2000; Meier, Mastracci and Wilson, 2006; Pilcher, 2007; European Commission, 2009; Pruitt, 2012; Baruah and Patrick, 2014). Therefore, for roles that require emotional labour, service organisations are likely to select women. With reference to literature and my personal experiences as an employee, I discuss how emotional labour in the service sector has promoted gendered occupational segregation. The paper has two major sections. First, I provide a review of literature relating to emotional labour and gender-based occupational segregation. In light of the literature, I then present my own experiences as an employee in the hospitality industry.

Literature Review

The concept of emotional labour is originally credited to Arlie Russell Hochschild, who described it in her 1983 influential book The Managed Heart: Commercialisation of Human Feeling. Based on a thorough observation of flight attendants, Hochschild (1983) defined emotional labour as the process of managing one's feelings and emotions to portray a publicly acceptable facial or bodily display. Simply, instead of showing one's intrinsic or true emotions, one projects their emotions in a way that resonates with the underlying rules of conduct. Emotional labour is essentially about impression or appearance management (Pilcher, 2007). At work, for example, organisations require employees to constantly demonstrate composure and compassion when serving or interacting with customers. One is expected to show such positive emotions regardless of their real emotional state (Williams, 2013). In other words, whether one is experiencing positive or negative emotions, they are required to always show positive emotions. For instance, irrespective of how difficult or stubborn a customer is, employees are expected to empathise with such customers. For any organisation, such positive emotions constitute part of the organisationally-acceptable behaviours as far as employee-customer interactions are concerned.

Emotional labour occurs in two major ways: surface acting and deep acting (Hochschild, 1983). Surface acting essentially entails faking emotions (showing feelings that are in reality not experienced) or hiding emotions (concealing feelings that if portrayed would not be appropriate in a given situation such as when serving customers). This means that the individual is aware of the separation between the emotions they display at the workplace and their true character or personality. Deep acting, on the other hand, involves aligning one's real emotions with organisationally-desirable emotions. Dissimilar to surface acting, deep acting does not really involve creating false emotions: instead, an individual unconsciously engages in temporary acts aimed at generating the emotions appropriate to a given situation.

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All the same, though quite different, both deep acting and surface acting generally entail projecting untrue emotions. Indeed, both types of emotional labour can be likened to the notion of emotional intelligence (Ghalandari et al., 2012). Emotional intelligence is about awareness of other people's emotions and acting on the basis of those emotions. Similarly, emotional labour involves controlling one's emotions to conform to the expected rules of behaviour. Nonetheless, this is not to say that the terms emotional labour and emotional intelligence can be utilised interchangeably.

Though emotional labour may occur in any organisational context, it tends to be more concentrated in service industries (Kinman, 2009). In service industries, there is often a great deal of interaction between employees and customers. From airlines to hotels and hospitals, employee-customer interaction is an important part of day-to-day work. Whether it is selling tickets, checking in passengers, answering customer queries, receiving guests, or examining patients, service workers interact with customers on a daily basis. This means that the fulfilment of service roles requires both physical and emotional effort. Service workers must constantly display the expected emotions, in large part, to safeguard the image of their organisation. Indeed, for service organisations, how employees behave when interacting with customers can have significant implications on the organisation (Taylor and Tyler, 2000). A service organisation with employees who constantly display calmness and empathy towards customers is more likely to inspire greater confidence in customers than one with employees who show negative emotions towards customers (Hochschild, 1983).

Does emotional labour impact individuals and the workplace in any way? This is a topic that has increasingly attracted scholarly attention. For individuals, some scholars have examined the implications of emotional labour on mental health, arguing that emotional labour may negatively affect one's psychological wellbeing as it entails falsifying feelings or hiding one's true feelings (Williams, 2013; Baruah and Patrick, 2014). Nonetheless, the impact of emotional labour on employee's wellbeing is beyond the scope of this paper. Emotional labour's impact on the workplace is a particularly interesting area of inquiry. More specifically, emotional labour has affected the workplace by influencing how organisations make employment decisions. In the service sector, it is not difficult to see how one gender dominates certain jobs (Huppatz, 2012). From hospitality firms and airlines to schools, women and men tend to perform different roles, with most frontline and interactive jobs such as cashiering, reception, checking-in, cleaning, and teaching being undertaken by women.

According to Pilcher (2007), interactive service work tends to be significantly gendered-segregated in the sense that most service organisations disproportionately select women for roles that require emotional labour. This segregation is basically denoted as gendered occupational segregation. It is a form of workplace segregation where an employer shows preference for a certain gender for some jobs (Pruitt, 2012). In service organisations in the UK and elsewhere, gendered occupational segregation is not an unfamiliar phenomenon (European Commission, 2009). For instance, women have historically comprised a significant majority of waiting staff in bars, restaurants, and hotels. Also, majority of flight attendant as well as sheltered housing warden jobs have traditionally been reserved for women.

So, how exactly does emotional labour promote gendered occupational segregation? Baruah and Patrick (2014) offer a valuable explanation, arguing that female employees are more likely to employ emotional labour compared to male employees. This is because women are inherently perceived to be more 'caring' than men (Pilcher, 2007). It is also believed that women tend to be better than men in building rapport with others as well as interpersonal interactions (Meier, Mastracci and Wilson, 2006; European Commission, 2009). These beliefs are generally informed by social norms and stereotypes, which tend to classify jobs as either feminine or masculine (Pruitt, 2012). Accordingly, as service organisations generally prefer employees who can consistently project certain positive emotions, they are likely to employ women, especially in roles that involve substantial interaction with customers (Taylor and Tyler, 2000). Further, empirical evidence has shown that women are often expected to perform emotional labour in a sexualised fashion, such as portraying heterosexuality openly or 'flirting' with male customers (Pilcher, 2007). Therefore, for jobs that require sexualised physical appearances, service organisations are likely to go for women than women.

Though gender-based segregation is evident in service organisations, this does not necessarily mean that men working in these organisations are not expected to performed emotional labour......

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Baruah, R. and Patrick, H. (2014) Influence of emotional labour on general health of cabin crew and airline ground employees. Journal of Education & Social Policy, 1(2), 40- 50.

European Commission (2009) Gender segregation in the labour market: root causes, implications and policy responses in the EU. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

Ghalandari, K., Jogh, M., Imani, M. and Nia, L. (2012) The effect of emotional labour strategies on employees job performance and organisational commitment in hospital sector: moderating role of emotional intelligence in Iran. World Applied Sciences Journal, 17(3), 319-326.

Hochschild, A. (1983) The managed heart: commercialisation of human feeling. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Huppatz, K. (2012) Gender capital at work: intersections of femininity, masculinity, class and occupation. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Kinman, G. (2009) Emotional labour in "front-line" service employees: does mode of delivery matter. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 24(2), 118-135.

Meier, K., Mastracci, S. and Wilson, K. (2006) Gender and emotional labour in public organisations: an empirical examination of the link to performance. Public Administration Review, 66(6), 899-909.

Pilcher, K. (2007) A gendered 'managed heart'? An exploration of the gendering of emotional labour, aesthetic labour, and body work in service sector employment. Reinvention: An International Journal of Undergraduate Research. [online] Available from: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/iatl/reinvention/issues/launchissue/paper5/ [Accessed 21 April 2017]

Pruitt, A. (2012) Emotional labour in a gendered occupation: the work of a female funeral director. Dissertation, University of Louisville.

Taylor, S. and Tyler, M. (2000) Emotional labour and sexual difference in the airline industry. Employment & Society, 14(1), 77-85.

Ward, J. and McMurray, R. (2016) The dark side of emotional labour. New York: Routledge.

Williams, C. (2003) Sky demands: the demands of emotional labour in the airline industry. Gender, Work & Organisation, 10(5), 513-550.

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