Recognizing the Role of Emotional Labor in the On-Demand Economy

On-demand workers end up performing outsize amounts of what sociologists call “emotional labor,” or expressive work to make the customer experience a positive one so that users come back to the platform. This work extends beyond good customer service: It involves actively reshaping a worker’s inner emotional life to conform to employers’ and customers’ expectations of emotional performance.

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Studies have confirmed that both men and women perform emotional labor. Hochschild and other sociologists have noted that emotional labor in the service of work often produces “emotional dissonance” — a conflict between how workers really feel and the surface feelings they’re expected to perform as part of a job. Hochschild’s work on flight attendants found that unless managers acknowledged and appreciated the emotional efforts of their workers, the pressures around emotional dissonance created by so-called “surface acting” caused flight attendants stress, anxiety, and resentment against their employers — and, ultimately, long-term burnout.

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