Emotional labour can be defined as the management of employee behaviour towards customers in order to enhance organisational productivity. Sociologist Arlie Hochschild explains for emotional labour to exist three conditions need to be met. Firstly, there has to be face to face or verbal interaction between employees and customers, secondly, such interaction must ensure that the employee can evoke certain emotions from their customers and thirdly, management has to have a certain level of control over their employees’ behaviour through selection and training (“Emotional labour”, n. d.).
Emotional labour is practised widely in many professions including cabin crew in the airline industry. In the airline industry, declining airfares from the rise of low-cost carriers (LCCs) and increasing operating costs has resulted in an overall drop in profitability for airlines. Customers are also demanding for higher service standards and lower airfares given the various options of airlines they can now choose from (Murrie, 2012). What this means for airline employees is that for the same wage or less, they have to work harder to provide better services. As such, service standard becomes a differentiating factor from one airline to another. Managing emotional labour effectively therefore allows an airline to gain competitive advantage over its competitors.
However, emotional labour has raised issues such as to what extent does management have the right to control and manipulate its cabin crew’s behaviours and attitudes. One negative aspect about emotional labour is ‘surface acting’ whereby cabin crew are made to display emotions during work without really feeling these emotions (Seery & Corrigall, 2009). While in the short-run, this type of emotional labour does raise the level of service thereby improving the airline’s productivity, in the long-run however, this can negatively affect cabin crew and in turn, overall productivity. The reason for this is because the cabin crew has to maintain emotions that they do not actually feel and this can lead to emotional dissonance, high levels of emotional stress and reduction in job satisfaction. This in turn affects the airline in the form of high absenteeism, high turnover rate, reduced service quality, poor customer image and lowered productivity (Seery & Corrigall, 2009).
In conclusion, emotional labour can be a useful tool for the airline to utilise to raise productivity. However, if not managed properly, it can achieve the opposite effect. To manage emotional labour effectively, airlines should put in place a more stringent selection process of its cabin crew and in doing so, training becomes more of a fine tuning process as compared to a radical change in the employees’ behaviours and attitudes.
Emotional labour (n. d.). Wikipedia. Retrieved October 2, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotional_labor
Murrie, J. (2012). Issues in aviation human resource management and labour relations. 190.306 Airline Strategic Management: School of Aviation, Massey University.
Seery, B. L. & Corrigall, E. A. (2009). Emotional labour: links to work attitudes and emotional exhaustion. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 24 (8), 797-813.