Rava is an online news portal providing recent news, editorials, opinions and advice on day to day happenings in Pakistan.
Imagine that you are at 10,000 meters altitude, pushing a cart down a narrow corridor surrounded by restless passengers.
A child blocks his way. A passenger is irritated because he can not pay cash for food and another demands to go to the bathroom. Your job is to satisfy everyone with a good disposition.
For a member of the crew of an airplane, this is the time when “emotional work” is necessary for their craft.
This term was used for the first time by the sociologist Arlie Hochschild to talk about the effort we make to regulate our emotions and keep “a facial and body appearance at work”.
Simply put, it is the effort we make to express something we do not feel, whether it’s being positive when we do not feel that way, or suppressing our negative emotions.
Hochschild’s initial research focused on the airline industry, but experts say that emotional work is in almost every dimension of our work, whether we work in customer service or not.
When the research began, the focus was on the service industry, with the hypothesis that the more clients or interactions they had with them, the more emotional work was needed.
However, in recent times, psychologists extended the focus to other professions and discovered that it is not so much the amount of interactions, but how employees manage their emotions during them.
Maybe this morning you had to show interest in the things that a colleague told you, or you had to make an effort not to be criticized. It may be that biting your tongue has been more difficult than expressing your feelings of pain.
The case of Mira W.
In some cases, maintaining the facade can be very difficult, and what you pay for it accumulates. Mira W. chose not to give her last name. He recently left a job with one of the leading Middle Eastern airlines because he felt that his mental well-being was at stake. In his last working position, the “client was the king,” she says.
” One time, a passenger called me ‘p *** ‘ He did not answer me when I asked him if he wanted coffee I asked him twice and then I went with the next person, I got an abusive diatribe from him.”
“When I explained what happened to my superior, he told me that I should have done something to provoke that response and that I should go and apologize[…] Sometimes I had to choose my facial expression consciously, for example, during a turbulence severe or an aborted landing, “he says.
“Projecting a calm attitude is essential to keep others calm, so that aspect did not worry me, it was more the feeling that I had no voice when they treated me unfairly and rudely.”
Over the years, and particularly in his last position, it was more difficult for him to manage the stress caused by suppressing his emotions. Small things seemed huge, I was afraid to go to work and his anxiety increased.
” I felt angry all the time , as if I could lose control, hit someone or explode and throw something at the next passenger who would touch me or swear, so I gave up,” he says.
Now, she visits a therapist to deal with the emotional consequences. She attributes some of her problems to the fact of being isolated from her family and to the brutal travel calendar that implied her work. However, he has no doubt that if he had not had to suppress his emotions so much, he could still be in the industry.
Mira W. is not alone. Around the world, employees in many professions are expected to adopt a work culture that requires external manifestation of particular emotions, which may include ambition, aggression and hunger for success.
The “Amazon Way”
A few years ago, The New York Times wrote an extensive article on the “Amazon Way”, which described the particular and demanding behavior that the retail company requires of its employees, and the positive and negative effects this brings.
While some employees seemed to thrive in the environment, others struggled with constant pressure to show the correct corporate face.
“The way we deal with the demands of emotional work has its origins in our childhood , when attitudes toward ourselves, others and the world are shaped ,” says clinical and work psychologist Lucy Leonard.
“Unhelpful attitudes like ‘I’m not good enough’ can lead to thought patterns at work, such as ‘no one else is working as hard as I’ or ‘I have to do a perfect job.’ This can give and increase the anxiety in the workplace, “says Leonard.
Workers are often expected to provide good service to anxious and angry customers, and they may do so while feeling frustrated, worried or offended.
“This continuous regulation of emotional expressions can generate low self-esteem and the feeling of being isolated,” she says.
Hochschild suggests that emotional work can be addressed superficially or deeply, and either of the two forms we choose affects the amount of suffering we are going to pay for it.
How to act so as not to exhaust yourself?
Take the example of a phone call. If you act superficially, you can alter your emotional expressions, responding appropriately and leaving your true feelings intact.
Instead, if you act in a profound way, you will make a deliberate effort to change your real feelings to take advantage of what the person says. He may not agree with the way he does it, but he has the goal in mind.
One might think that both behaviors are friendly, but the second one tries to connect emotionally with the other person’s point of view and generates a lower risk of exhaustion.
Jennifer George is a nurse, specializing in psychiatry in the Accident and Emergency Department at Kings College London Hospital. Their job is to ensure that patients are referred correctly to the right areas, a position that places them at the top of medical care.
Every day you must determine the needs of patients: do they really need to be admitted? Do you want to be served only for a while? Are you looking for medications?
“It’s important for me to test my assumptions,” he says. “As much as possible, I take the story and listen actively, it’s my job, but it also reduces my stress.”
“Sometimes, my instinct tells me that the person is trying to cheat me, or I get bored with the things he says, but I can not sit there and dismiss something as a lie.”
George says that this process can be disturbing. Sometimes he has to say no “in a very direct way” , and the environment can be threatening.
“I keep everything I can for myself, even though I need to be open to things that colleagues and fake and real patients tell me, I do not say anything that I do not think is right, and that helps me,” she says. .
When things get tough, she talks with her colleagues to vent her feelings: “What I say in a loud voice allows me to try and validate my own reaction, and then I can go back to the person in question.”
“Not escalating the conflict is very important”
Ruth Hargrove is a retired litigator based in California. She faces complicated interactions in her work representing San Diego students, pro bono, in disciplinary matters.
“Almost every person you deal with in the system can force you to work on your emotions,” he says, and says one problem is that some lawyers launch personal attacks based on any perceived weakness – gender, youth – instead of focusing in the real problems of the case.
“In the past, I treated the issue catastrophically and let it affect my self-esteem,” he says. “But when I do it right, I realize that I can separate myself from problem people and see that (their attack) is evidence of their weakness.”
Instead of refuting personal accusations, she sends an e-mail from a line saying that she does not agree. “Not escalating the conflict is very important,” she says.
“It is exhausting to participate in the emotional battle in which the other person wants you to participate, I must keep in view the real work that needs to be done.”
Hargrove also has to deal with the expectations of clients who believe, sometimes unrealistically, that if they have been harmed, justice will prevail.
She understands her feelings, even when she has to clarify them. “I identify here, as a mother, with her thought that there should be a remedy, even when I know it will not be possible, it helps me to make this feeling true for me too.”
Get in the other’s shoes
The key, it seems, remains true to your feelings. Numerous studies show that the people who suffer most from emotional exhaustion are those who, in their work, must show emotions that they do not feel and that are in conflict.
Of course, we must all be professionals, and it is part of the job to manage difficult clients and colleagues, but it is clear that it is better for personal wellbeing to put oneself in their shoes and try to understand their position, than to express feelings that, deep down, do not are real.
Leonard says there are steps that people and organizations can take to prevent burnout. It can help, for example, to limit extra work hours, take regular breaks and confront conflict with colleagues through the appropriate channels.
Also, Leonard says, it helps to stay healthy and have a full life outside of work. A “climate of authenticity” at work can be beneficial.
“Organizations that allow people to take a break behind the scenes of high levels of emotional regulation and recognize their true feelings with understanding and colleagues without prejudice, tend to improve against these demands,” he says.
Leonard says that such a climate can also foster greater empathy , allowing workers to separate their emotions from those with whom they must interact.
Where possible, workers should be truly empathetic, be aware of the impact that interactions with others are having on them and try to communicate in an authentic way. This, she says, can “protect us from communicating in an insincere way, and then make us feel exhausted by the effort of having to pretend”.