Emotional Labour and how to avoid Burnout

by The Architect on Apr 18, 2018

Another post on Adam Grant's podcast 'WorkLife' (I love his work). This week, we explore how you can help the emotional labour of your people.

Here's last week's post on your 'Emotional Wake'; the ways in which your emotions are contagious.

The modern day work challenge is not Physical Labour or Mental Labour, but Emotional Labour

That term 'Emotional Labour' is coined by Arlie Russell Hochschild in the seminal book 'The Managed Heart'.

What is Emotional Labour? Grant asks a psychologist to describe it:

'It's kinda like when you get a gift and you don't really like it and you still have to smile and act nice because otherwise your Aunt Bernadette would be offended.

But you have to do that all day long. And it's explicitly part of your job. It's tied to your wages and outcomes and if you don't do it there are consequences. You could lose your job or get in trouble. And it's with strangers, for the most part.'

It's a dissonance between what you're feeling and what you're being paid to show.

We all have some experience with it. But some professions are constantly dealing with this. Carers have to be sympathetic. Flight attendants have to always be smiling. How exhausting this is depends on your approach to emotional labour.

Your daily approach can either strengthen your Personal Resilience or lead you to Burnout

The 'easy' route is to distance yourself from the role and to pretend: 'Surface Acting'.

But there is substantial evidence that people who do surface acting end up feeling more drained and stressed. The 'distancing' approach you try to keep yourself safe makes you feel worse.

Instead, the solution is go to deeper.

The Podcast describes some great tips to avoid Burnout:

1. Empower your People to go Off-Script

"A lot of people worry that caring is exhausting. We talk about caregiver burnout or compassion fatigue in healthcare.

But the evidence shows it's not caring that drives exhaustion. It's caring while being unable to help." - Grant


2. Reframe the Situation

"How," the instructor asked the class, "do you alleviate anger at an irate? I pretend something traumatic has happened in their lives. Once I had an irate that was complaining about me, cursing at me, threatening to get my name and report me to the company.

I later found out his son had just died.

Now when I meet an irate I think of that man. If you think about the other person and why they're so upset, you've taken attention off of yourself and your own frustration. And you won't feel so angry." - The Managed Heart


3. Employee-first, not Customer/Patient-first

In customer first cultures, people do a lot of surface acting.

Research shows that companies who put their own internal relationships with employees first have a better external relationship with their customers. Because then the employees are no longer acting.

"If you really really want to have the best customer experience, put your customer second. We believe our customers will never measurably be happier than the people working there." - Danny Myer, Restaurateur

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