Emotional Labour and Your Business

Last Updated: July 5, 2017

Have you ever had to show confidence when you felt fear or express enthusiasm when you felt anxious? Maybe you’ve used a smile or a calm tone of voice to put someone else at ease. If so, you have performed emotional labour, and you’re not alone.

What is Emotional Labour?

Emotional labour involves managing your outward emotions to conform to professional or societal expectations, regardless of how you really feel. It is also often required in public facing or service jobs where an employee is expected to express their emotions in a way that is regulated by their workplace or employer. The emotional labour that is used in situations like these, where there is a high level of incongruity between what people feel and what they show, can be physically and mentally draining. It has a negative effect on productivity and can lead to low morale and burnout. Entrepreneurs may also face their own challenges around emotional labour. For example, entrepreneurs may hide their own emotions in order to put forward a certain image of their business.

It is important to note that emotional labour often disproportionately impacts women and people of colour. Women can be expected to display traditionally feminine emotions, such as playing the role of peacemaker and perform caretaking tasks, such as planning workplace social events, on top of their normal duties. People of colour can be called on to perform additional emotional labour when faced with discriminatory behaviours that are unaddressed by their workplaces, such as needing to assert their abilities to managers, clients, and coworkers.

Tips for Managing Emotional Labour

So what can you do to manage emotional labour in the workplace for yourself and your employees? Entrepreneurs must be aware of how they deal with their own feelings and what kinds of expectations of emotional labour they set for their employees.

It can be powerful and empowering to acknowledge emotional labour for what it is: work. Work that will sometimes be difficult, sometimes rewarding, sometimes exhausting. You can remind yourself about the value in your work. Every business serves a purpose. How does your business fit into society at large? Why is what you do important?

You can also seek out healthy ways to express negative emotions. In Emotional Agility  – a #sbalibrary summer reading challenge pick – Dr. Susan David provides guidance on how to listen to your negative emotions and respond to them in ways that will advance your goals. Dr. David’s YouTube channel also offers transformative advice.

And, most importantly, you can do small things to minimize stress and practice self-care. 7 Crucial Self-Care Habits for Creative Entrepreneurs and Practicing Self-Care as an Entrepreneur are two articles that can set you up for self-care success.


Additional sources:

Handel, Steven. (2013). Emotional labor: The role of emotions at work. The Emotion Machine. Retrieved from http://www.theemotionmachine.com/emotional-labor-the-role-of-emotions-at-work/

Humphrey, Ronald (2012). How do leaders use emotional labor? Journal of Organizational Behavior (33), pp. 740-744.

Sternheimer, Karen (2015). Emotional labor, status, and stress. Everyday Sociology. Retrieved from http://www.everydaysociologyblog.com/2015/01/emotional-labor-status-and-stress.html


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