This is not how it was supposed to be.
You don’t feel the way you want to be feeling. You are not enjoying the role anymore. You’ve been in this job for a while and it has never felt as bad as it does now. You’ve always been told you are a ‘people’s person’, and it’s true, you genuinely care about relationships. You want to give your people the ‘strokes’ they are after and which they deserve. But they keep telling you that you look tense, burned out.
The amount of work to focus on, information to process, decisions to make and tasks to solve is overwhelming. But you know how to manage this. You have all the skills to cope with these tasks. This is not the problem.
You are expected and trusted to carry on with all the usual tasks, it’s why you have the job. But on top of this you are expected to be patient with your people, calm under pressure, warm, understanding and caring. The position requires you to be strong, and empathetic at the same time. You must listen with undivided attention to your peoples’ psychological needs and meet them with care and patience. You must share your vision with enthusiasm and focus on motivating your people especially in these volatile and ambiguous times.
Unless you are superhuman these are hugely demanding obligations. There are certain, well-defined emotions which you are expected to exhibit. And there are those emotions which you must never show.
One of the most overlooked domains of the employees’ life in an organisation is that of the Emotional Labour. It is defined as the process of managing feelings and expressions to fulfil the emotional requirements of a job. Specifically, you are expected to regulate your emotions during interactions with customers, peers, direct reports and superiors. Regardless of what you are feeling, you must exhibit those emotions that are expected of you and you must supress those that are not congruent with the way your position is seen. This very process of ‘emotion management’ consumes a massive amount of your mental and emotional resources. This will often be experienced as emotional exhaustion.
On any given day, even if you are not feeling particularly enthusiastic or happy, you must try and evoke positive feelings, to be effective at motivating your people, meeting their psychological needs and managing business as usual.
Suppression of expression
Conversely, you must hold back on your frustration, insecurities, doubts, impatience or boredom. You must closely control your body language, your facial expressions, as well as the words you think and say. Whatever you feel, you must manage. Most often you must express something you do not happen to feel… How tough is that?
Very tough indeed! It is made easier if your emotional intelligence level is sky high. But even if it is, you may, over time, become alienated from your own feelings. A study by Hochschild points out, ‘There is evidence that emotional labour may lead to emotional exhaustion and organisational burnout over time and may also significantly reduce employees’ job satisfaction’.
The right fit may be the solution
There are certain coping strategies you can employ to minimise the impact of emotional labour on your personal psychology. However, the best bet to be satisfied with your job in the long run is to find a role, team and organisation that are a perfect fit. For example, if you value freedom of expression and emotional flexibility in your workplace, make sure that the culture is not rules and procedure based, the people not too reserved, communication is open and transparent and that the leaders are human and not controlling, overpowering perfectionists. In short, make sure you end up knowing as much about the organisation you are joining as they want to know about you before you accept the job.