Academic journal article Management Revue

Service Work without Emotional Labour? Role Expectations of Service Engineers, Their Employers and Customers in the Mechanical Engineering Industry

Academic journal article Management Revue

Service Work without Emotional Labour? Role Expectations of Service Engineers, Their Employers and Customers in the Mechanical Engineering Industry

Article excerpt


Studies on emotional labour have gained importance with the growing of the service sector. For a long time, the focus of emotional labour studies was on typical service professions, such as flight attendants (Flochschild, 1983), nurses (Wharton, 1993), or cashiers (Rafaeli, 1989).

Flence, the question arises whether emotional labour is also part of rather "atypical" service professions, such as mechanical engineering, in which technical knowhow is at least as important as social competences. If found to be true, the picture of emotional labour would be extended to professions of the mechanical industry.

To explore this question, the authors conducted a research project in the field of the mechanical industry. A three way perspective, reflecting the service triad of service provider, customer, and provider organisation (see Nerdinger, 1994), is used to gain insight into the importance of emotional labour in this field. First, we investigate the perspectives of the organisation and the customer. What are their respective expectations? Thereafter we address the following questions: What do service engineers think is expected of them? What is their self-concept and which attitudes do they adopt? Are emotions and emotional regulation perceived to be important at work?

Since the first studies on emotional labour, initially carried out by Arlie Hochschild, were published, a huge number of studies have blossomed on this topic. The next three passages offer an exemplifying short overview over some research areas emphasising research activities over the last five years relevant for our own study. First, emotional labour and sentimental labour are presented. Second, we highlight theory on the individual's perspective of emotional labour. This supports our analysis on the role expectations of service engineers; especially how they see themselves. Third, we outline emotional labour in typical and atypical service professions.

Emotions at work

Emotions are always involved in life, at work and outside work (e.g. Payne & Cooper, 2001). Emotions are not easily regulated at all times, sometimes they need not to be controlled, sometimes it would serve well if individuals displayed their emotions in a socially or organisationally desired way. Especially in service tasks, a sensitized expression and handling of emotions is necessary. Two forms of handling emotions in the interaction of the service provider and the customer can be differentiated: sentimental work and emotional labour.

Sentimental work describes efforts of the service provider to influence the emotions of the customer, so that he/she shows emotional reactions that are perceived to be helpful or most suited to the given situation (Strauss et al., 1980). Thus, sentimental work is the attempt to influence emotions of others.

Emotional labour focuses on how individuals modify not the emotions of others but their own feelings in order to exhibit a behaviour which follows display rules set by an organisation (Hochschild, 1983). Hochschild distinguished two modes of modifying: surface acting and deep acting. The first technique describes an individual feeling differently from the expectations of the environment, and he/she is then urged to present an appearance which is in accordance with the display rules. For example, if a person feels angry he/she should not let this become obvious via his/her verbal and non-verbal expressions. Not the emotion is regulated but the emotional expression. The second strategy is deep acting, which should allow a person to modify not mainly the verbal or non-verbal expression but to help him/her to feel in the "correct" way. Therefore it is not merely a manipulation of an expression but a regulation of the emotion itself (Hochschild, 1983).

There are several functions of emotional labour. One is to keep one's distance to emotions in order to continue a professional service (e.g. to distance oneself from disgust in health care, see e. …

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