Compensating emotional labour

Inspiring article by Sarah Jaffe – The truth behind “service with a smile”

As we have been discussing money as a motivator to work as well as the concept of emotional labour, first introduced by Arlie Hochschild, in this first blog entry, I would like to discuss the question of compensation regarding emotional labour: “To what extent is it fair to compensate efforts resulting from emotional labour?” The article “The truth behind: Service with a smile” by Sarah Jaffe, that inspired me to discuss this question, was published in February 2013 in a left-oriented online magazine called “In these times with liberty and justice for all”. Jaffe mainly argues that low-wage service employees, females in particular, are compensated with too little wage, considering the emotional exertions experienced during the job.

Let me first consider arguments that may legitimize a higher pay for those working and potentially suffering from emotional labour in their daily work. As introduced by Jaffe, employees, especially at franchise outlets i.e. Pret a Manger, are faced by high group and competitive pressure to perform well at their emotional labour. Due to constant checks by mystery buyers, employees learn that by exercising emotional labour to a higher degree, they will directly receive a higher pay, thus being a direct incentive to smile more often. Another argument that Jaffe addresses is fairness: When a worker has to change his or her personality and suppress personal feelings, should this effort not be compensated considering that we are living in a society in which effort is perceived to be positively correlated with reward? Furthermore, the author feels that workers’ pride is largely exploited.

In the previous argument I have addressed the importance of society and culture that leads to the individuals’ perception of fairness, especially regarding compensation at work. It may be true that in an ideal world effort should translate into output, however in reality employees are usually measured by their output. It is next to impossible to measure a single worker’s effort to exercise emotional labour and compensate for satisfaction or dissatisfaction gained from the job. Furthermore, we commonly assume that an applicant knows what kind of requirements to expect from a future job. People working in the service sector, therefore, usually mostly gain satisfaction from exercising emotional labour as their job is of vocational nature. A hairdresser that does not like small-talk with his or her customers should not be compensated for overcoming his/her dislike to talk to customers. In my opinion, Jaffe also neglects that there are also jobs in the higher wage-sector that require emotional labour such as being a lawyer or doctor. Considering this argument, one can see that wage is therefore largely determined by demand and supply of certain labour, rather than the amount of emotional or cognitive labour exercised: a specialised doctor is harder to find than a waiter.

In order to demonstrate a different approach rather than claiming that workers suffer from emotional labour, largely fake it anyways and should receive a compensation for their efforts, I would like to introduce the example of a well-known company and their human-resource strategy: Starbucks discovered what the organization should focus on when offering the “2nd home feeling”: its employees. Their strategy to empower employees and offer many benefits was completely new and resulted in Starbucks leading the ranks of employees’ top choice, indirectly relating to better perceived customer experience. By formulating and implementing a corporate culture, Starbucks employees did not view their work as exhaustive emotional labour anymore but it somehow became a vocational-type of job. The organization did not raise wages to compensate for emotional labour but rather changed their employees’ attitude to make it attractive to behave in the Starbucks way. However, those efforts did not last long as focussing on employee satisfaction is expensive and the company was not able to sustain those programmes in the long run.

Overall, we can evaluate organizations’ efforts that focus on their employees as a positive sign. Those organizations have discovered the mutual goal of achieving customer satisfaction through improved employee satisfaction. There is an alternative to compensating dissatisfied employees with more money: Public discussion will hopefully turn the exertion experienced by emotional labour into satisfaction from motivation gained by living a common corporate culture in the long run.

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