Why you need to be thinking of emotional labour

Why you need to be thinking of emotional labour

by Muhaimin X 22 Jan 2020

The term “labour” is often used in a physical context, and brings to mind copious amounts of arduous work, even it’s mainly confined to a desk and computer. However, there is an emotional aspect to it that should be considered as well. Emotional labour can be described as “the unpaid, often unnoticed labour that goes into keeping those around you comfortable and happy” and is often overlooked in the workplace. Despite its unconventional labelling, it can have a significant effect on your health in more ways than one.


The workplace is as much a social setting as it is a professional one. In other words, your conduct in a work environment is affected by your personal skills and your level of proficiency in them. No one goes out of their way to make a day at the office a living hell for everyone; it’s more often the direct opposite. “Keeping the peace” however, comes at a cost.


Functioning under social settings involve subtle forms of emotional labour, such as changing the subject if someone is uncomfortable with the topic and laughing politely at jokes even if they aren’t particularly funny. Excessive amounts of emotional labour often result in burning out, which can lead to a whole host of negative mental and physical symptoms. This is also exacerbated by the stress people feel from their day-to-day duties.


Women are also more susceptible to emotional labour at the workplace. Gemma Hartley, journalist and author of Fed Up, constantly feels the need to put up a facade at work. “I now question things like my tone in email. If I don’t put an exclamation point at the end of a sentence, do I sound like a mean person? I’ve also started looking more at my appearance. What is it about me that I can improve upon, stylistically, to present a stronger front?”


Fortunately, the #MeToo movement has managed to spur on some much-needed change. Instead of burying their feelings, more women are being more vocal and forthcoming about their thoughts and feelings in the workplace. From the top-down, even male employers are making the decision to incorporate more progressive values into working environments.


Recognising that emotional labour exists for both men and women is the first step to reducing it. While it is ultimately the work culture that influences such things, having a mentor or even a friend to confide in will provide validation and make you feel less alone and vulnerable in dealing with them. It can also give you the confidence to voice your concerns to your supervisors. No matter what it is, you deserve to be heard without fear of reprisal.