Emotional Labor – Working the Awkward Squad

Mitch, originally from Omaha, writes about the people aspect of work

Emotional Labor: Why Passion Matters

Like a great many people, my first jobs were in customer service. In the American Midwest, there are few other options for an inexperienced and essentially unskilled worker. I quickly moved on to a brief career in the then-expanding outbound cold-calling telemarketing industry in Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska (and now you know how old I am).

One thing these jobs had in common was that customers were often angry. It was made very clear to us in the beginning that a large part of our job was to be a target for that anger. The customer could berate us, complain, tell us what we did was awful but (so long as they weren’t profane or violent) we had to take it all with a smile, offer to help, and above all sell them a cheeseburger (or an unwanted credit card, a trial subscription to UFC Monthly For Over 60s, or what have you.

Selling things was what we signed on for, that wasn’t a problem. Soaking up all of the verbal bile sprayed at us all day, though, quickly became too much. Turnover was fantastically high, and probably still is.

This is an extreme example, of course, but I bring it up to show how the most draining, ‘worst’ part of a job is often not what we think of as the ‘core’ of it, but rather dealing with customers, or the horrible owner, or that HR lady who wears too much grandma-perfume. Psychologists call this emotional labor, and sometimes it is most of the ‘work’ in a job.

Having my own business now, I can tell you that there is no escaping this ‘emotional labor’. But it isn’t the crushing, draining, soul-destroying thing it used to be. The difference is that I’m actually fairly passionate about my work now, because it is my work. I know the efforts I put into the social side of it benefit something I actually care about. I’m not slogging through the mud for a company that I don’t give a damn about (and which certainly doesn’t give a damn about me). I’m investing this labor, like all the other work I do, into something I think is worthwhile.

So, what can we take away from this? There are probably a lot of sinister lessons, about getting the downtrodden masses emotionally invested so they give you this extra labor for free without resenting it, but let’s not go there. Better to take away that finding something that you think is worth working for without that kind of manipulation makes the emotional work something you can actually feel good about.

Join The Discussion