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Paul Glavin

Research Findings

Taking a closer look at emotional labor occupations: what are the health consequences for workers?

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February 6, 2018

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For many of today’s workers it’s not necessarily enough to give their time, reliability, and skill to a job, they must also give their emotions. Emotional labor—the management and display of emotions at work—has become a prominent job requirement for many occupations in the United States.

Looking at the service producing industries in the U.S., employment in this sector has increased steadily in recent years. Many of the fastest growing occupations are seen in healthcare and social assistance.

As automation and new technologies make many physical and even cognitive-based jobs obsolete, the emotional labor economy—driven by the carework, healthcare, and retail sectors—will put emotional and social skills front and center of the future of work in the United States.

Think home-health aide rather than manual laborer. Therapist instead of financial bookkeeper.

If jobs like these are becoming a staple of the American economy, what are the health implications for contemporary workers when managing emotions is a critical requirement of their job?

Is this ‘emotional labor’ an opportunity for satisfying work through the cultivation of meaningful relationships with customers, or is it a source of stressful interpersonal demands that stifle workers’ ability to have authentic feeling and genuine emotional expression?

We set out to investigate this issue.

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