Compensating Emotional-Labor Requirements

In class we conducted a detailed discussion about emotional labor – an employee’s expression of organizationally desired emotions during interpersonal interactions at work. The basis for this dialogue was provided by Anat Rafaeli’s presentation about emotional labor and its depleting effect. This very concept of “emotional depletion” and the in-class discussion about the negative effects of emotional labor on the individual employee really piqued my personal interest.

Our lecture and class discussion revealed that a disparity between an individual’s felt- and its displayed emotions (emotional dissonance) can potentially be particularly stressful on the employee. So called “surface acting” can, in the long run, lead to emotional exhaustion, lower job satisfaction and even burnout. Thus, employees pay a substantial toll for this emotional labor.
I had to think of manual-labor workers and doctors, who both would receive remuneration in accordance with the risks that come along their profession (e.g. oil rig workers vs. construction site workers, general practitioner vs. anesthetist). And when moving to jobs that require higher cognitive labor, men also tend to receive a wage boost. This led me to one question: “Are workers also compensated for the additional risk and strain resulting from high emotional labor?”

I was surprised to find that researchers have approached this very question from a very similar approach. A relevant piece of work in this field of study was done by T.M. Glomb and J.D. Kammeyer-Müller in the study “Emotional Labor Demands and Compensating Wage Differentials”.

“Jobs differ in terms of such characteristics as […] job stress, […] physical effort, and level of risk. […] The compensating wage differential is the amount that an employee must be compensated to accept the additional work effort for the occupation.
High emotional labor demands could be conceived of as an aversive job characteristic and require a compensating wage differential in the same way wage premiums are accorded to jobs associated with high physical labor demands.”

Studies reveal that when men shift to positions demanding higher emotional labor, they even take a 5.7% penalty in pay relative to occupations with lower emotional demands. This is somehow consistent with Glomb/Kammeyer-Müller’s work that claims that occupations low in cognitive demands show a wage cut with increasing emotional labor demands.

These findings are very different from what one’s intuition might say. Additional strain and risk of emotional labor are not being paid for.
This might be a missed opportunity for employers: When taking into account the “affective events theory” it’s apparent that emotional labor levels eventually influence the employee’s job performance and satisfaction.

Affective Events Theory

This is critical for an organization, as both, employees and employers, benefit from these factors. If an employer wants to improve satisfaction by addressing emotional labor, he/she has two options:

For one, employers could start remunerating higher levels of emotional labor in order to counteract the negative influences it might have on job satisfaction and performance. It would be interesting to examine, how job satisfaction across the board is influenced when companies eliminate the “wage penalty” for higher emotional labor.
The second option is based on the findings of Grandy, Fisk & Steiner’s research paper “Must “Service with a Smile” Be Stressful”: Employers should provide their employees with a stronger sense of autonomy over their job behavior. The study showed that with more autonomy, emotional labor that was otherwise exhausting was not associated with exhaustion at all. Hence, this relieve would also have a positive effect on job satisfaction and performance.

My search for the answer to my initial question – if workers would be compensated for emotional labor – turned out to take a very interesting path. Not only did it reveal the negative effects that emotional labor might have on wages but it also stimulated me to start taking into account implications for organizations.


Glomb, Theresa M. & Kammeyer-Müller, John D. (2002); “Emotional Labor Demands and Compensating Wage Differentials”
O’Connell, Andrew (2010), Harvard Business Review; “Emotional Labor Doesn’t Pay”
Grandey, Alicia A.; Fisk, Glenda M. & Steiner, Dirk D. (2004); “Must “Service with a Smile” Be Stressful? The Moderating Role of Personal Control for U.S. and French Employees”

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