SOCIAL CLASS AND EMOTIONAL LABOR
There are jobs at every socioeconomic level that place emotional burdens on the worker, but these burdens may have little to do with the performance of emotional labor. Among the lower classes, where work is often deskilled and boring and the work process beyond the worker’s control, the emotional task is often to suppress feelings of frustration, anger, or fear—and often to suppress feelings of any sort. This can be a terrible burden, but it is not in itself emotional labor. Factory workers, truck drivers, farmers and fishermen, forklift operators, plumbers and bricklayers, chambermaids in transient hotels, and backroom laundry workers do not on the whole have their personalities as engaged, their sociability as used, and their emotion work as closely subjected to occupational strictures as the flight attendant and the bill collector.
A steelworker describes his work: “I put on my hard hat, change into my safety shoes, put on my safety glasses, go to the bonderizer. It’s the thing I work on. They rake the metal, they wash it, they dip it in a paint solution, and we take it off. Put it on, take it off, put it on, take it off”2 In such work there is little face-to-face or voice-to-voice contact, no premium on producing an emotional state in another, and no company concern over details of how the worker manages his feelings. He may repress his feelings in order to focus steadily on the task at hand, and at his lunch break he may observe his buddies’ rules about what sort of sexual jokes are funny, but what he produces is washed and dipped metal, not processed feelings. Again, the steelworker who “walks the irons” hundreds of feet in the air, the parachutist, the race driver, and the truck driver who handles explosive cargo all have the work of suppressing fear. But their emotion work is a consequence of practical, not emotional, demands on their time and energy. It is not directed toward other people, nor can the result of it be judged by the state of other people’s feelings.
Similarly, in the hinterlands of the middle class, the land of the flight attendant and the bill collector, the question of how work affects the worker’s feelings is far broader than the question of whether that work calls for emotional labor. At this socioeconomic level, there are many workers who, in promoting a product or a company, transform their show of personality into a symbol of the company, a clue to the na
ture of its product. These workers are seldom important decision-makers, but in one way or another they represent the decision-makers —not simply in how they look or what they say but in how, emotionally speaking, they seem. The advertising maxim “Never sell what you don’t believe in” calls for an act of faith. But since middle-level workers who service, sell, and persuade don’t earn as much as their bosses do, they are less likely to be, in a sense, really sold. They are more likely to see emotional labor as no more than work and to be better at counting its costs.
Still higher up are the big corporate decision-makers. For them, political, religious, and philosophic beliefs become more “job relevant,” and the ties between self and work are many and diffuse.3 Here years of training and experience, mixed with a daily carrot-and-stick discipline, conspire to push corporate feeling rules further and further away from self-awareness. Eventually, these rules about how to see things and how to feel about them come to seem “natural,” a part of one’s personality. The longer the employment and the more rewarding the work in terms of interest, power, and pay, the truer this becomes.
At the very top of the upper class are the tycoons, the imperial decision-makers. They assume the privilege of personally setting the informal rules to which underlings eagerly attune themselves, rules designed to suit their own personal dispositions. Their notions of what is funny, what to beware of, how grateful to feel, and how hostile one should be to outsiders will become an official culture for their top employees. This is more than the license to indulge emotional idiosyncrasy, for the idiosyncrasies of the powerless can be happily ignored. It is a subtle and pervasive way of dominating through the enforcement of latent feeling rules for subordinates. Interestingly enough, at the other extreme of the class ladder employees may enjoy almost complete freedom from feeling rules, although they have no right to set them for others. They enjoy the license of the dispossessed.
To sum up, jobs that place a burden on feelings are com
mon in all classes, which is one reason why work is defined as work and not play. But emotional labor occurs only in jobs that require personal contact with the public, the production of a state of mind in others, and (except in the true professions) the monitoring of emotional labor by supervisors.* There are probably fewer jobs of this sort—which call for a real transmutation of emotional life — in the lower and working classes. (The Park Avenue hotel doorman, the chambermaid in an upper-class hotel that serves a stable clientele, and the prostitute would be among the few exceptions.) The great majority of emotional laborers have jobs that place them in the middle class.