The development and expectance of emotions used in the workplace was identified in 1983 through the work of Hochschild. The ever-growing change in consistencies of labour have led to the changes of skill requirements.

The rise of the service sector over time has led to an increase in the demand of workers possessing soft skills; examples including emotional intelligence, people skills, optimism and friendliness; such skills were key to success. Such increase has led to a large variety of work into the psychological impact on employees; as well as a large debate surrounding weather or not such labour can even be identified as a skill.

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Bolton and Boyd (2003) research challenges the most key understandings to date, of emotional labour. Arguing that emotions in organisations are now controlled and governed by both employees and management. This argues a critique of Hochschild in terms of employees being able to determine their own agenda in the workplace using prescriptive and philanthropic emotion management. These are examples of employees own traits and characteristics coming into play such that of an example of a cabin crew member not phoning into work when they are sick as they do not want to let their colleagues down. Here, instead of the incentives put in place by the organisation influencing employees is the sense of commitment to colleagues. In retrospect, their research gives light to the fact there are many ways to enact organisational rules and the main issue lies in the understanding the reasons behind such actions.

Some academics choose to distinguish between emotional labour and emotional work, such distinction recognises that emotional labour can be voluntary and thus pleasurable.


Social change is reflected in the change in organisations themselves. The large increase in service industries and a decline in manufacturing has led to drastic changes in skills requirements. The importance of emotional work throughout this is well recognised. Occupations involving such skills can be seen at different levels within a skills hierarchy and different degrees of skills attributed to such work. Emotional labor itself is often exploited, in literature, as an ‘invisible’ skill which is poorly rewarded. Korczynski 2005 critiques the skills debate surrounding the knowledge economy in ignoring the largest area of growth, is in poorly-rewarded front line service jobs. It is further noted that on theoretical grounds the basis of division of labor, a major factor influencing skill, may be different in such customer facing jobs. In terms of job complexity, Bolton also makes the point that invisibility of such emotional skilled work to observers and managers is due to the large number of females in service work. Labelling of such ‘complex social skills’ as innate attributions of women rather than skills is an example of processes underlying of assigning of ‘skilled’ to such job roles. In such work, it is argued that there is a clear need for recognition of skills, rewarding of skills and thus the development of skills in service work. Specific skills, in specific service occupations are needed to be analyzed in context, with issues of recognition needing to be addressed before the rewarding of service work can begin.


Emotion work is skilled work with recognizable elements of discretionary content, task variety and employee control. If emotion work involves social accomplishment and customer service, seen as social interaction, front-line work could be theorized as multi-skilled emotion managers (Bolton, 2000). With the ability to judge the type and amount of such work required to maintain valuable encounters; not purely instrumentally motivated and cannot directly be controlled by management intervention.Bolton (2004), argues that skills under-pinning emotional labor are undervalued due to their invisibility. Furthermore, such employees in interactive service work are skilled emotional managers in themselves. This leads to recognition of emotional competences. Boltons findings show that through promoting emotional work as an important skill, a multi-dimensional approach is needed. With the belief that despite soft skills being assumed to be innate, there is something in which is subject to acts of personal management. This is the idea of adapting a feeling for given situation.

Scholarly work of Gatta et al and Hurrell at al furthermore argue that work with reliance on soft skills can be identified as skilled when systematically analysing jobs through established skill typologies.  In Nickson et al research using Cockburn 1983 framework, potential for diversity in the skill context of front line service jobs was identified. Such study of personal service in high retail jobs sought characteristics were consistent with high skill work. Thus, the excess time of employees means more focus on emotional labor in such working conditions. Supported by the work of Sutton and Rafaeli (1988) which suggested high sales volumes as well as work intensification leads to reduced displays of positive emotion by employees.


Moreover, this urges us to look at other, higher level skills, to assess such assumption. Emotional labour is highly prominent in the nursing with Bolton (2001) describing them as ’emotional jugglers’ such can be attributed to high discretion and complexity; management of emotional labour is also more difficult to control as patients are unpredictable. A study by Mann (2005) in creating an effective health-care model for emotional labour found new developments in organisational structure has meant added dimensions to workloads; through market and managerialism mentality. It is also to be considered here, the mental and emotional wellbeing of nursing. Despite many emotions being authentic to job role in these cases, there are times when nurses are unable to display authentic emotions perhaps due to distractions in home life or effects of burnout. Such research lead Mann to suggest that to provide the most effective model; emotional labour and management should be fully recognised as a key skill in facilitating the patient journey, as well as training, education and creating policy in the health care system. The study also called for more research into identifying emotional labour and differentiating the effects that they may have on the medical-profession.


Smith and Gray (2000), article on students and qualified nurses found that linked lecturers were the most central figure in students learning emotional labor and support. Suggesting educational effects on emotional labor as a skill. In nursing, itself emotional labor is seen vital to how nurses care, as well as the culture of care in the NHS. The report highlights emotional labor to not fully be recognized, and summarized instead, to be classified under a range of other essential nursing skills. Thus, emotional labor itself remains undeveloped and uncodified in nursing as identified as a skill that does not require development. Furthermore, the stereotype of nursing being ‘women’s work’ further enhances its identity as an invisible skill; even though there are obvious differences to the stereotype of women’s private role and the way in which nurses learn to orientate themselves to care for patients in the public domain.


A large amount of emotional labour has been addressed in the studies of call centres; central to this is the knowledge debate itself which is woven throughout. In such debates of skill, a high skills model is used, driven by a knowledge economy. Active government intervention is used in focus of supply; with emphasis on young workers achieving better qualifications. In the assumption that this will contribute to economic change, with enhanced productivity and competitiveness.  Education providing access to attainment of skills and knowledge underpinning such skills needs continually updating for maintained employability. The concept on deskilling itself consists as outcome of the development of capitalist labour process.


Jenkins et al (2010) exploratory case study on the call centre, VoiceTel, used a high commitment management model. Thus, Boltons model of emotional management was utilised through high discretionary judgement. One contribution made to existing understanding was the wide variety of unacknowledged skills identified through identifying knowledge, ability and inventiveness of employees. The model recognised feeling rules are not just prescribed but inspired by broader influences including professional codes and social values; identified through presentational and philanthropic forms. Additionally, the importance of corporate strategy can also be highlighted in this case. With its two core values being care and trust; and the recognition of organisational goals being through high transparency and autonomy, emotional work is recognised as a high skill, involved in such work.Work, although focused on emotional management, recognises that such skills debate should not take place in isolation from other competencies; and should be recognised within the needs and demands of other specific labour processes. Such idea suggests if employers are emphasising the importance of emotional competencies, there should be recognition that such work involves skills. Furthermore, the study highlights the importance of management strategies in the examination of emotions and skills at work. Found to be a flaw in knowledge economy.


Emotion as a skill debate itself identifies contextual dimensions in terms of social and cultural influences on the skills meaning itself. Some organisations see emotions as central to strategy thus invest widely; whereas other see it as a personality trait which is beneficial but not critical to corporate success. It could consistently be argued that the extent to which emotion is being rewarded and recognised in a firm hinders its overall perception of emotional work. It is important to address this assumption and its contribution to the debate on skill. This furthermore contributes to which factors constitute a skill and how skill level of different types of occupations can be measured.

It is familiar that the new knowledge economy is defined by a linear model; predicting expertise as the foundation for competitive advantage. Drucker (1993) study identified the quality of knowledge workers with knowledge as the new means of production. However, there are some failings attributed to this assumption that education itself leads to knowledge workers. As well as the overall use of the linear model. Warhust and Thompsons (2006) study into the set of assumptions of knowledge work in creating proxy measures highlights although knowledge economy is based on intangible factors, assessment is usually based on tangible measures. Measures, such as qualifications, highlighted the problematic relationship with evidence of academic inflation (Rodgers and Waters, 2001), with a high mismatch in number of graduates to the demand for such skills. Furthermore, Keep and Mayhew (2014) study highlighted the clear need for skill-utilisation in the knowledge economy. The UK itself, has the highest proportion of ‘low skilled’ jobs, yet the second highest level of qualification.  An issue of productivity is also apparent, with employees investing less in skills. Such study also highlights that growth and innovation policies have flaws which are impacting the economy and labour market. A survey on adult skills found that there needs to be a reform in reliance on education towards fostering life-long skill orientated learning; having better outcomes on society and economy. In conclusion both studies highlight the need for a specific focus on the workplace in the use of skills approach. Such focus would include the development of management practices to utilise knowledge better with the fundamental idea that knowledge ability can be injected by knowledge ability. Thus, a large contribution of knowledge work is overlooked, as well as its contribution towards the debate of emotional work and society. It is to be noted, that despite such weakness, such model dominates debates on skills, which does not take into consideration the ‘deeper understanding and broader classification’ (Bolton, 2004, pp 21) that is needed to fully capture such debate.


On the other hand, when corporate strategy changes or is adjusted this can also lead to degradation of skills. This can be specified in the case of airline industry work; where ‘lower costs’ are dominating a large amount of differentiation strategies in recent years. Curley and Royle (2013) Aer Lingus study recognised this objective. Such study gave valuable insight into the changing nature of work, based on understanding personal experience from a retrospective viewpoint. The reactions of cabin crew in this case where most interesting as they expressed reduction in autonomy and emotional labour requirements as an attack on their professionalism. This was also linked to the skills possessed by the cabin crew member; the example of senior cabin crew who had been employed by the organisation for over 10 years. Who had needed a diploma or a degree to get the job, with such incentive scrapped in 2001. Such implications had a profound effect on morale and professionalism of the job role. Reasons for preforming emotional learning shifted from intrinsic rewards to extrinsic; being associated with monetary bonuses and sales focus. Additional effects of high efficiency meant the conditions made it more likely for burnout in crew who did preform emotional labour. In such case, the organisation promoted high service while procedures of cost cutting, lower qualification requirements and less training undermined such objective. This was also contradicted by management. Such turnover suffered, yet long standing crew were still more likely to display emotional labour voluntarily; perhaps due to the fact they still perceived their job role as skilled and highly professional. This is the argument that personal accomplishment is a major incentive to perform such work, further supported by Greenglass (2001), as protection of own self-identity.


In terms of social construction of skills; there is the assumption that women are more inherent to emotional labour and thus does not require any learning of skill (James 1989).  The emphasis on emotional work as an innate feature further adds to the inequalities in society, based on class and gender; this itself ensures that it remains a ‘non’ or ‘soft’ skill (Sayer and Walker 1992).

Taylor and Tylers (2000) study examines gendered emotional labour and the production of such sexual differences being prominent in employment in the airline industry. In such industry, it can be identified there is a high demand for female employees to produce emotional labour with little scope for resistance. Such ethnographic research was carried out across sales agents and airline service delivery agents within the space of two years; in which time quality management programmes were implemented. In such sector, quality of service is the differentiation strategy; thus, has led to the management of natural delivery of service which holds gender consequences. The study found gender assumptions including the capacity for female employees to deal with sexualised encounters inscribed in attempts of prescribing emotional labour and facilitate deep acting and ‘natural’ social interactions at Flightpath. In conclusion, emotional labour was perceived as women’s work, with much more demanding expectancies of women working as sales agents and flight attendants. Qualities of emotional labour are abilities which women possess by virtue; seen in the managerial training of specifically female employees; with women expected to deep act in their roles. Interestingly, there is evidence to suggest the more management themselves attempt to prescribe performance in such setting, the stronger female employees resisted; through such research we can highlight the effects of management control and its effects on emotional labour itself, especially when seen to be gender specific. Furthermore; by looking at the Taylor and Tyler study it is apparent scripts are becoming less used, encouraging workers to be authentic; through the encouragement of using positive divergences. Yet surveillance was used to control the amount of personality in line with other forms of emotional labour. It is additionally important to recognise once people are recruited for their personality traits, it becomes more difficult to manage through the organisation. In terms of higher skilled status job roles, Wellington and Brysons (2001) study further identified female dress codes in place, inconsistent with that of male counterparts.  

Thus, it is important to recognise such gender assumptions are still institutionalised, are continue to influence such skills.

At the heart of such debate is the desire to define ‘normal’ social interactions of everyday life. This is the fundamental argument that interaction with customers can be defined as complex and skilled, yet requires no more emotional management that we are used to using in our everyday lives (Lloyd and Payne, 2009). Furthermore, the idea that such emotion qualities, are possessed by the majority that deliver a good level of customer service. Thus, managers do not need to identify such labour as a skill, as the labour pool is too big for businesses to pay a premium to those who possess such skills. This can be further identified as employees with higher level job roles not identifying such attribute as a skill.


Conceptual confusions are highlighted to be present in terms of emotional work. This is the argument that emotions themselves are down to certain personalities, specific character traits or natural caring qualities rather than being a ‘skilled’ worker (Mann 1999). Furthermore, such complex theory of emotion is not easily measured or certified. Conversely, it is not known whether such distinction between technical skills and innate qualities is useful, particularly in an economy of growing demand for knowledge and creative workers. Skill acquisition itself is reliant solely on the individual; thus, the argument remains that although they may share many of the common features of skills, they are merely innate qualities. Additional emphasis on the contribution of innate qualities to the creation of inequalities ensures it remains as a ‘non-skill’ (Sayer and Walker, 1992).

This can be supported by the argument that emotional workers themselves have never tried to develop a higher level of skill.


Hampson and Junor (2005) articulation work focuses on unacknowledged management of awkward intersections among social worlds of people, technology and organizations. This argues that Hochschild captures work involved in maintaining such social order through the management of reactions to conflicts; the argument that emotional labor itself does not completely capture the nature of interactive service work.  Such articulation work requires coordination and integration; and the complexities that come along with it. Lloyd and Payne’s research furthermore contributes in this direction. Research into call center, supermarket operatives and theme park ride attendants all participate in emotional work. Emotional work itself was identified to be a relatively complex and sophisticated discretionary skill. It is argued that those identifying emotion as a skill are those who will bring such definition to a redundancy. Francis and Penns (1994) research further identified varying perceptions of what constitutes as a skilled job, and its effects on the debate.

In summary, I agree with research pointing to emotional labour and work as a skill. Which all identify that motivations and efforts behind emotions and their management role in the workplace, to be a skill. Which remains rarely recognised and poorly rewarded. We, as a society, value emotional work as it is implicated in our own everyday lives. This however, has a profound effect on the way we perceive such skill and our expectations on how this should be recognised. Both sides of the debate call for a de-realization of skills work. It is also important to reference, where emotional labour is not considered a skill, corporate strategy is often low cost orientated. It is also apparent, in such terms, managerial prioritises lay elsewhere, females are predominant and the sector if often low skilled. In this context identified, there is a need for such work not to be called low skilled, as this tends to lead to impact in society; impact on pay, status and even identity.


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