Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Even When You Don't Feel Like It

There are still a bunch of jobs out there that require physical labor. Whether it's a skilled physical labor job, or unskilled, your body gets tired at the end of the day. You risk physical ailments because of the repetitive motions, the strain on your back, the headache from the fumes.

For awhile, though, there have been more and more jobs that require emotional labor. Sure, it's pretty hard to imagine a job where your body does no movement - if you move around, I guess that counts as physical labor. But more and more people are getting hired - not for the skill of their hands or the eloquence of their mouth, but the intelligence and capacity of their emotions. And this is not just for women.

More and more, where you work is requiring more emotional labor from you. Whether you type, file, push a button, drive a truck, use a hammer, make a phone call, write a document, or the thousand other physical tasks that you can get paid to do - all of them are done within the web of relationships. Most immediate is going to be a customer or a coworker. At some point you interact with your boss. After awhile, the physical labor can get mindless, but the relationship side of your work - well it can always be full of drama, tension, disappointment, anger or joy, fulfillment, and excitement. It's usually the emotional side of your work that makes it unbearable. And it can be that the emotional labor is the hardest work of all.

To be a linchpin where you work, do the hard work of emotional labor. Even when you don't feel like it.

Here are some thoughts on emotional labor from Seth Godin:

Apparently, we don't have a lot of trouble understanding that work might involve physical labor, heavy lifting, or long periods of fatigue. But, for some reason, we hesitate to invest a more important sort of labor into work that really matters. Emotional labor is the task of doing important work, even when it isn't easy.

Emotional labor is difficult and easy to avoid. But when we avoid it, we don' do much worth seeking out. Showing up unwilling to do emotional labor is a short-term strategy now, because over time, organizations won't pay extra for someone who merely does the easy stuff.

We're not at all surprised when a craftsman sharpens his saw or an athlete trains hard. But when an information worker develops her skills at confronting fear (whether it's in making connections, speaking, inventing, selling, or dealing with difficult situations) we roll our eyes.

It turns out that digging into the difficult work of emotional labor is exactly what we're expected (and needed) to do. Work is nothing but a platform for art and the emotional labor that goes with it. (80)

Volunteering to do emotional labor - even when you don't feel like it, and especially when you're not paid extra for it - is a difficult choice. (81)

When you do emotional labor, you benefit.
Not just the company, not just your boss, but you.

The act of giving someone a smile, of connecting to a human, of taking initiative, of being surprising, of being creative, of putting on a show - these are things that we do for free all our lives. And then we get to work and we expect to merely do what we're told and get paid for it.

This gulf creates tension.

If you reserve your emotional labor for when you are off duty, but you work all the time, you are deprived of the joy you get when you do this labor. Now, you're not giving gifts on duty, but you're not off duty much at all. Spend eight or ten or twelve hours a day at work (not only in the office, but online or on the phone or in your dreams), and there's not a lot of time left for the very human acts that make you who you are and who you want to be.

So bring that gift to work.

And what do you get in return? In most cases you get very little in return. At least, little in terms of formal entries in your permanent file or bonuses in your year-end pay. But you do benefit.

First, you benefit from the making and the giving. The act of the gift is in itself a reward. And second, you benefit from the response of those around you. When you develop the habit of contributing this gift, your coworkers become more open, your boss becomes more flexible, and your customers become more loyal.

The essence of any gift, including the gift of emotional labor, is that you don't do it for a tangible, guaranteed reward. If you do, it's not longer a gift; it's a job. (82)

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