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“Emotional Labor” on the Job

By Kim Marshall, TIE columnist

This piece is reprinted from The Marshall Memo, Kim Marshall’s weekly summary of current research and best practices in the field of education. Drawing on his experience as a teacher, principal, central office administrator, consultant, and writer, Kim Marshall lightens the load of busy educators by serving as their “designated reader.”
The article: “Managing the Hidden Stress of Emotional Labor” by Susan David in Harvard Business Review, September 8, 2016,
“With the possible exception of Sesame Street’s Oscar the Grouch, very few of us have the luxury of being able to be completely and utterly ourselves all the time at work,” says Susan David (Harvard/McLean Institute of Coaching) in this Harvard Business Review article. Sometimes, when we’re doing work that isn’t in synch with how we feel, we have to put on our professional game face. That effort is known among psychologists as “emotional labor” – remaining energetic and upbeat despite a bad night’s sleep, or making pleasant small-talk in an elevator when you’re feeling tired and surly.
“Emotional labor is a near-universal part of every job, and of life,” says David; “often it’s just called being polite.” But if politeness is a “surface act” and you’re seething inside, suppressing strong emotions, there are real costs, including depression and anxiety, decreased job performance, being abusive to subordinates, burnout, and damage to relationships at home. Here are some workplace conditions that increase emotional labor:
- A mismatch between your personality and what’s expected on the job;
- A misalignment of values, especially if what you’re asked to do is in conflict with what you believe;
- A workplace culture in which particular ways of expressing emotion are endorsed, or not endorsed.
The ideal, of course, is a job so well suited to who you are that there’s no need to suppress emotions. But that rarely happens. If you’re in a job that’s meaningful and largely aligned with your values, the best way to reduce emotional labor, says David, is to substitute surface acting with what she calls “deep acting.” Some tips:
• Remind yourself why you’re in the job you’re in. Connect to your larger purpose, and where the current work fits in. Perhaps you’re learning skills that will be useful down the road, or you need health insurance while your children are growing up.
• Explore “want to” versus “have to” thinking. What aspects of the job energize you? How can other aspects be made more efficient and pleasant? If this approach doesn’t work, maybe a job change is needed.
• Do some job crafting. Can you and your boss tweak the work so it’s of greater value to you and the organization? Or is there a new project that would be fun and productive?

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10/12/2016 - Beatriz
Nice thoughts. Completely agree!