Emotional Labor of Software Engineers

The concept of emotional labor, introduced by Hochschild in 1983, refers to the “process by which workers are expected to manage their feelings in accordance with organizationally defined rules and guidelines”. For instance, judges are expected to appear impartial, nurses—compassionate and police officers—authoritative. While software development has been traditionally stereotyped as a nerdy “lone wolf” job less likely to induce emotional labor, nowadays software developers become more and more social, on the one hand, and are subject to increasing amount of behavioral expectations, e.g., formulated as codes of conduct.

In this position paper we stress that software developers are subject to emotional labor, envision how emotional labor can be identified based on emotion detection techniques applied in software engineering, suggest possible antecedents and consequents of emotional labor and discuss interventions that can be designed to address the challenges of emotional labor.


Examples of positive behavior encouraged by the Contributor Covenant include “gracefully accepting constructive criticism” and “showing empathy towards other community members”, i.e., to suppress negative emotions that might have been triggered by criticism and amplify positive emotions towards the colleagues. Codes of conduct in open- source projects are experienced as problematic by certain software developers as witnessed by the opposing efforts known as “No Code of Conduct”. Finally, exhaustion related to emotional labor has been shown to be one of the most important variables explaining IT career abandonment.

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