Emotional labor

This blog entry is concerned with a reflection upon emotional labor.

As I went to a trip to Cambodia I observed quite a lot of female factory workers all in the same grey outfit rushing to the next food shelter for a small bowl of rice or soup. The factories were shielded with high walls and barbed wire. Here, I could experience the state of emotional dissonance at first hand: Clearly, their faces showed their emotional state of exhaustion and maybe fear but they would not talk to me about it. Instead, when posing them a question, all of the women were extremely polite and displayed some sort of satisfaction. I was wondering how their working conditions would be like and stumbled over a devastating documentation right after I returned from my trip. Jasmin Malik Chua (2015) released an interview to a reality show where three young girls from Norway experienced the everyday life of a garment worker in Cambodia.


It appeared to me that Organizational Behavior is thus a “Western comfort” we can afford to think about. None of the women working for a factory in Cambodia will be questioned how they feel and whether they display burnout or depletion. CB here overlaps ethics and responsible behavior of organizations operationg globally. Do the theories we discuss apply to such extreme cases? (e.g. Affective Events Theory or Energy Depletion Theory). Further, the role of culture might also play an important part: their culture seems to induce norms of showing pleasant and nice behavior towards others without complaining about their misery.


These impressions made me think back of my work as a volunteer in Madagascar. I thought it might be worth mentioning that social workers have to deal with enormous emotions at work as an additional example to the often mentioned call center employee. We only learn that emotional labor requires good interpersonal skills, in fact, there is much more to think about. I spent four month in Madagascar working with an orphanage to build up a sustainable living for the homeless children there as well as to teach locals English. After completing the first week, I was extremely exhausted and could not bear to think of all the sorrow of the people living there. I had never before seen people living under such conditions and could not help but cry as an emotional reaction to what I had experienced. Similar to the girls’ reactions in the documentary I was overwhelmed with my own emotions and did not want to face the terrible conditions of the Malagasy people anymore. When skyping with my family and friends, however, I would act happy and content with my work. Referring to Anat Rafaeli’s video, I believe that I was confused about which emotions to display when talking to my family back home. I thought that the emotions I was supposed to feel were satisfaction to help people in an underdeveloped country. Instead, I felt shock and helplessness after being confronted with so much pain and poverty. At night, I would be awake for hours to reflect upon peoples life’s and felt that I simply had a too small impact on all the problems that still would remain unsolved. I can imagine that social workers will quickly feel depleted and exhausted as they might be confronted with similar feelings. In such jobs it is impossible not to introduce emotions as Anat Rafaeli suggests in her speech. Further, good interpersonal skills do not seem to help social workers deal with the local people and their work. Therefore, the question remains how workers in these jobs handle their emotions over a longer period of time.


Another interesting link:



Link to the website of the orphanage I worked for:


Leave a Reply

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