Updated: Mar 8, 2022
Happy International Women's Day! The day that celebrates all kinds of women; strong, soft, independent, hustlers, deal-making, ceiling-breaking or the quiet ones: those who don't need a platform to do so. The women who make things happen, whether it's big or small. On this day, let's take about emotional labour. It's a term that has got a lot of traction lately, not just due to the rise of feminism. First of all, I don't want to claim that emotional labour is a women's job. Not at all. I reject anything that comes near to a gender stereotype, yet it seems that women take up emotional labour more often. Many jobs involve a lot of positive emotions like being social, outgoing and hospitable. This is the most apparent form of emotional labour; for a receptionist, it’s imperative to be warm, open, friendly and helpful, no matter how awful the morning started with horrendous traffic and a splitting headache. And nobody wants a cranky server at their table. However, emotional labour is involved in all jobs, albeit not always as obvious.
So what is emotional labour?
When it's someone’s birthday, who thinks about the celebration, arranges a present and informs others to congratulate? It’s often the same co-worker in any workplace. Who makes sure that the new co-worker is settling in, who is the one who asks about the weekend plans to the more introverted colleague? Again, it’s often the same co-worker. So what is emotional labour? It’s actually unpaid labour; the small things often go unnoticed. It’s about the little things that are just being done in the workplace, like social chit-chat, creating a friendly atmosphere, having office celebrations, checking in on new co-workers, thinking of birthdays and even doing a bit of cleaning up after office parties. There’s no full definition because it can be all the above, or the person who always takes notes during meetings, schedules the follow-up meetings or arranges the secret Santa each year.
Who cares, anyway
It’s about those things which are usually in no-one’s job description (however, we see you Happiness Officers!), but someone does feel responsible for it. It’s about taking care of others and their well-being. These things are unpaid, sometimes even unnoticed, but can be draining. Worrying about the well-being of others – can all be very emotionally exhausting for people who feel it’s their role to do so. Not only does it take energy from you, but it also costs energy when you consider the thought that "if you don't do it, no one else is doing it". These concerns are another aspect of emotional labour. The belief that no one will pick up these things when you don't do them will also make empathetic people feel tired at the end of the day.
From the back office to the main stage
So after reading above, and you recognize your co-worker (or even yourself), this person is most likely a woman. So what makes women do all this unpaid work? It's the women themselves. Most likely a combination of having a naturally higher empathy level, wanting to meet expectations, and also just the fact women are most often planners. It’s all these things and then some, and it’s not that they want to do all things, but feel they have to. Both the fear that these things are otherwise forgotten and want others to feel happy, welcome or special. So what can you do to help your co-worker, family member or friend who popped up in your head while reading this? Why not offer to take notes during the next meeting, schedule the next Zoom Friday office social or buy the present for the upcoming birthday. But most of all, the best thing you can do, is express appreciation. Let this person know that you emotionally value their efforts. Here's to all the women who make things happen, from the back office to the main stage!