Jobs and Emotional Labor

“Know Your Prices. Keep Smiling.”

— Sign in back hall, Italian restaurant

“Create Alarm."

— Sign in back room, collection agency

The corporate world has a toe and a heel, and each per­forms a different function: one delivers a service, the other collects payment for it. When an organization seeks to create demand for a service and then deliver it, it uses the smile and the soft questioning voice. Behind this delivery display, the organization’s worker is asked to feel sympathy, trust, and good will. On the other hand, when the organization seeks to collect money for what it has sold, its worker may be asked to use a grimace and the raised voice of command. Behind this collection display the worker is asked to feel dis­trust and sometimes positive bad will.* In each kind of dis-

* Some companies assign the function of debt collecting to outside agencies in order to preserve pleasant and morally satisfying associations with the company name. As the head of Delta’s billing department explained: “We use eight or nine collection agencies around the country. No one initiates action in this office. We prefer that the agency be the bad guy and Delta the nice guy.” Just over 1 percent of Delta’s customers do not pay their bills. After solicitation, some 40 percent pay, and a third of that goes to the collection agency.

play, the problem for the worker becomes how to create and sustain the appropriate feeling.

The reason for describing the polar extremes of emo­tional labor, as represented by the flight attendant and the bill collector, is that it can give us a better sense of the great variety of emotional tasks required by jobs that fall in be­tween. It can help us see how emotional labor distributes itself up and down the social classes and how parents can train children to do the emotional labor required by differ­ent jobs. And so, having examined the work of the flight at­tendant, we now take a look at the work of the bill collector.