Emotional dissonance at work and how to prevent it

While we so far tried to answer the questions of who goes to work and why people go to work, the discussion about emotions at work in week 3 let me reflect most. We found out that there appear to be six basic emotions that every human all over the work is able to identify, including anger, fear, sadness, happiness, disgust and surprise. Additionally we tried to differentiate between emotion, mood and affect. Although current academic literature may suggest diverse definitions of these terms, for me, the best differentiation we also identified during class discussion was by their length. While mood and emotions are both states of feelings, mood is rather short-lived and emotion is longer-lived. Having a bad day is normal and just shows that a person is not in a good mood. Being constantly sad, stressed or depressive is however more than just a short-lived feeling and can rather be identified as a general emotion and state of mind. While our moods might differ on an hourly basis and depend heavily on situations, in my opinion emotions are deeper anchored in a person and often hard to control or even explain. In contrast to both, affect is only the experience of feeling an emotion, thus it is shortest in duration.

When talking about emotions at work, we integrated all three concepts of feelings instead of solely focusing on long-lived emotions as emotions, moods and affects may equally influence our work performance. In many working environments, emotional labor is of huge importance. Employees are expected to express specific organizationally desired emotions during interpersonal transactions. The most salient examples for me are bank tellers in shops or waiters in restaurants and cafes. No matter whether they have a bad day or not, whether they are tired, stressed, sad or worried, they are expected to display positive emotions and act friendly. These expectations nowadays do not only come by their superiors, but primarily by customers. Thus, whenever employees start to act in order to display the appropriate attitude or emotions to the customer while simultaneously feeling a different emotion themselves, we encounter emotional dissonance.

The critical topic of emotional dissonance, its consequences and how to prevent them stroke me personally, because I worked in a café myself during high school and remember how stressful it can be on a busy Sunday to continuously act friendly and apologize for potential waiting times, while customers are grumpy, unfriendly or even offensive. Especially on days where I had a bad day myself, the constant acting to display the appropriate positive emotions was really challenging and often frustrating.

Fortunately, as the café I worked in was rather small, no employee had one specific task and we had to work together to prepare the food and drinks, sell and serve the products as well as to do the dishes. Therefore, whenever one of us was completely stressed or had an unlucky day with several unfriendly customers, we managed to divide tasks in a way, that he or she could do the dishes or prepare food and drinks in the back office for a while instead of working in direct customer contact. This enabled us to relieve every now and then from the stress created by constant emotional dissonance.

It is just human and natural to have emotions and moods and ignoring them is not an option in the long run. Organizations with intense interpersonal transactions should therefore enable their employees to overcome the negative long-term consequences of regular emotional dissonance by offering temporary back office tasks and making each employees work shift more diversified. As an increased task variety is likely to enhance job satisfaction in general, this change might even create a virtuous cycle, leading to friendlier and happier employees directly engaged with the customers and less emotional dissonance overall.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *