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.


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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