The men’s guide to understanding emotional labor

As a bro-y yet sensitive guy who cares about gender equality, I’ve always been apprehensive about entering the fray on gender issues. But in a #MeToo world, choosing to stay in my lane to avoid being criticized just doesn’t feel like an option. Deep inside, I knew this was a conversation that I needed to be a part of. And so began the laborious act of understanding emotional labor—and now I’m convinced that this is a conversation everyone needs to be a part of.


Personally, I was apprehensive about the new, kitchen-sink nature of the term, particularly as it relates to the workplace. I’d heard definitions of emotional labor capturing everything ranging from organizing Secret Santa events, taking notes during meetings, maintaining a smiling disposition at all times, and mentoring colleagues. For someone looking to turn a blind eye to emotional labor (ahem, men) the term’s expansiveness provided a convenient “out” of the conversation. After all, if everything is emotional labor, then nothing is, right?

As I scrutinized Hochschild’s original definition (i.e. the requirement to satisfy the emotional needs of a customer), I failed to see how organizing the office Secret Santa fit the bill. But there was an unintended consequence of absorbing myself in this issue: I started to realize its pervasiveness, how it had manifested in so many of the encounters I’ve experienced and dynamics I’ve observed over the course of my career. I suddenly realized that there were tons of work done by women who were going unrecognized for it—and this lack of recognition was negatively impacting their career trajectories and compensation, perhaps while even helping my own.


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