Race and Identity Race and Mental Health What Is Emotional Labor? By Ariane Resnick, CNC Ariane Resnick, CNC Facebook Ariane Resnick, CNC is a mental health writer, certified nutritionist, and wellness author who advocates for accessibility and inclusivity. Learn about our editorial process Updated on September 20, 2021 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Margaret Seide, MD Medically reviewed by Margaret Seide, MD LinkedIn Margaret Seide, MS, MD, is a board-certified psychiatrist who specializes in the treatment of depression, addiction, and eating disorders. Learn about our Medical Review Board Fact checked Verywell Mind content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication. Learn more. by Aaron Johnson Fact checked by Aaron Johnson Aaron Johnson is a fact checker and expert on qualitative research design and methodology. Learn about our editorial process Print LaylaBird / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents What Is Emotional Labor? How Emotional Labor Manifests Who Bears the Burden Of Emotional Labor? The Impact of Emotional Labor What To Do What Is Emotional Labor? Emotional Labor Emotional labor is unpaid, often invisible work that a person is compelled to do by others to keep them happy. It can be an employer's rule that employees may not react to customer mistreatment, a partner's presumption that the other person will handle housework and life logistics, or an acquaintance wanting an explanation for why their behavior is problematic. The Origin Of The Term The term "emotional labor" was coined by sociologist Arlie Hochschild in 1983 in her book The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling. At the time, Hochschild defined emotional labor as a workplace-only occurrence. In the decades since, emotional labor has grown to be used in our society to describe the unpaid, often invisible work done by one person to quell the needs or demands of others, both in the workplace and in social and domestic situations. Emotional labor is often conflated and used interchangeably with the term "emotion work," which is a term for the social tasks one performs to satisfy others. Hochschild coined the term "emotion work" in an essay in 1979. Though emotion work was intended to be used for separate situations than emotional labor, the two have been considered interchangeable in recent years. The evolution of emotional labor as a term to also encompass demands outside the workplace was solidified with the release of Gemma Hartley's book Fed Up: Women, Emotional Labor, and the Way Forward in 2018. How Emotional Labor Manifests Emotional labor can manifest in multiple settings. The most common ones are listed below. Workplace Emotional labor in the workplace consists of practices and rules for employees that are implemented for the sake of satisfying customers. They center around employees needing to manage their emotions and not express them to others. Here are a few examples of emotional labor in the workplace: The insistence that employees always smile at customers and/or act "peppy"Prevention of response to a customer when they treat an employee rudely or inappropriatelyPunishment if an employee reacts after being treated unfairly or inappropriately Partnership In intimate settings such as with loved ones, emotional labor may show up in quieter ways than in the workplace. Here are a few ways people are asked to perform emotional labor in intimate settings: One person in a relationship is expected to perform all house management workOne person is expected to handle childcare and all needs of the couple's child or childrenOne person is expected to initiate discussions, whether about emotional topics or life logistics Social Networking If you spend any time on social media, you may have heard the term emotional labor thrown around. On group forums, in comments threads, or elsewhere on both private and public profiles, one person's demands by another are often responded to with a mention of emotional labor. Here are several examples: When someone is called racist or sexist, they insist their accuser explain how what they did was racist or sexist.When a person wants more information on a topic, they ask others to explain it to them.After explanations are given, the person continues to insist on their good intentions and wants those against whom they acted to validate their intentions. Mental Health Effects of Reading Negative Comments Online Who Bears the Burden Of Emotional Labor? It shouldn't be surprising that it is marginalized people who generally bear the burden of emotional labor. People demanding it are generally doing so from a place of privilege. BIPOC The burden to explain racism and the racist acts of white people are often placed on people of color. However, among BIPOC, the burden of behaving to appease White people falls most heavily on Black people. Think of their increased risk of police brutality, their higher than average chance of being victims of domestic abuse, or the substandard medical care they often receive. Yet, in those instances and many others, Black people are forced to behave in a way that helps White people view them as people such as maintaining politeness in the face of overt racism. Research has found that racial minority groups are often othered and dehumanized by those with majority group status. When a BIPOC person accuses a White person of racism, the demand made by the White person to explain how their behavior was racist is a demand of emotional labor. It is requesting the time and energy of a marginalized person to educate someone who exists in a more privileged position in society. People Of Marginalized Genders People who exist outside of the cisgender label are often expected to explain their identities to cis people. When a person is transgender, gender non-conforming, or nonbinary and a cis person requests information about their identity, that is a request for emotional labor. Asking for education about why a person uses the pronouns they do is an example of the emotional labor demands placed on people of marginalized genders by cis people. Women The unspoken expectation that in a nuclear family unit, it is the woman's job to do everything from care for children to manage finances to acquire home supplies is also a form of emotional labor. This is the clearest version of what was formerly called emotion work— conforming to the expectations of one's role in society for the sake of pleasing others. Assuming that if there is conflict, the woman will initiate the discussion around it is an expectation of emotional labor on the woman's part. Employees In a society oriented around customer service and treating people as if "the customer is always right," employees are often left to suffer. That's because the focus on keeping employees quiet and smiling when customers are mistreating them is unfair to employees. Despite having been labeled essential workers during the COVID-19 global pandemic, service employees are often low-paid laborers. When you add the difficulties of not being allowed to speak up for oneself on the job to physical labor and often unrewarding job tasks, this can make employment particularly hard for employees in these sectors. The Impact of Emotional Labor The most basic impact of emotional labor on the people it is demanded of is exhaustion. It can be tiresome and frustrating to have to behave in a way that appeases others. This is shown notably in studies that track how verbal abuse by customers leads to negative outcomes, such as exhaustion and lack of job satisfaction, for employees. For marginalized people such as Black people, it would be worth exploring what the impact is on their mental health, but that has not been studied at length yet. What To Do Instead Of Demanding Labor From Others Emotional labor does not need to be the go-to-way that people deal with situations, and those on whom the burden is placed would be better served if it weren't. These are some ways you can avoid demanding the emotional labor of others. Conduct Your Own Research If a marginalized person tells you that your behavior was racist, sexist, prejudiced, or otherwise problematic, do your own research to discern why. Please do not ask the person whom you have offended to explain it to you. Instead, use a search engine and enter the keywords you referenced in the statement you were told was offensive. For example, in a Facebook group for women, a woman asked, "Do nonbinary people join women's and men's groups?" Rather than requiring nonbinary people to explain who does and doesn't join what groups, the person in the women's group could have googled "what spaces do nonbinary people join?" or "do nonbinary people join social groups for all genders?" View Situations Through Others' Eyes For those who find themselves expecting others to do invisible, unpaid work to keep life running smoothly, it can be helpful to view situations through the person's eyes. For example, if you are a husband who expects your wife to arrange childcare, clean the house, and shop for groceries, you could try doing a couple of those things in one day to see how much energy they take. Sometimes when we step into other people's shoes, we can see the difficulties and challenges they face. That, in turn, can lead us to appreciate others more for the work they do and even to take on some of that work ourselves so that their burden is lessened. Craft Fair Workplace Policies Though it isn't illegal to demand employees always offer service with a smile or not react to mistreatment, it is a way to have less happy employees. If you care about the well-being of the people you employ, craft workplace policies centered around fairness for all people, not only customers. Create new systems that enable autonomy for employees, such as not punishing when employees speak up for themselves. This doesn't have to lead to melee but rather can be done in an organized, structured fashion built into employee codes and workplace guidelines. In turn, employers could have workers who are less emotionally exhausted. 13 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Arlie Russell Hochschild. The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling. University Of California Press; 2012. doi:10.1525/9780520951853 Grandey A. Emotional Labor in the 21st Century. Routledge; 2013. doi:10.4324/9780203100851 Hochschild AR. Emotion work, feeling rules, and social structure. American Journal of Sociology. 1979;85(3):551-575. Hartley G. Fed up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward. Harperone; 2018. Grandey AA, Houston L, Avery DR. Fake it to make it? Emotional labor reduces the racial disparity in service performance judgments. Journal of Management. 2018;45(5):2163-2192. doi:10.1177/0149206318757019 Alang S, McAlpine D, McCreedy E, Hardeman R. Police brutality and Black health: Setting the agenda for public health scholars. American Journal of Public Health. 2017;107(5): doi:10.2105/ajph.2017.303691 Jordan-Zachery JS. Shadow Bodies: Black Women, Ideology, Representation, and Politics. Rutgers University Press; 2017. Glover K. Can you hear me?: How implicit bias creates a disparate impact in maternal healthcare for black women. Campbell Law Review. 2021;43(2). Kteily N, Bruneau E, Waytz A, Cotterill S. The ascent of man: Theoretical and empirical evidence for blatant dehumanization. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2015;109(5):901-931. doi:10.1037/pspp0000048 Mary-Frances Winters. Black Fatigue: How Racism Erodes the Mind, Body, and Spirit. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc; 2020. Schmitz RM, Robinson BA, Tabler J, Welch B, Rafaqut S. LGBTQ+ Latino/a young people’s interpretations of stigma and mental health: An intersectional minority stress perspective. Society and Mental Health. 2019;10(2):215686931984724. doi:10.1177/2156869319847248 Cho Y-N, Rutherford BN, Park J. The impact of emotional labor in a retail environment. Journal of Business Research. 2013;66(5): doi:10.1016/j.jbusres.2012.04.001 Shellae Versey H, Cogburn CC, Wilkins CL, Joseph N. Appropriated racial oppression: Implications for mental health in Whites and Blacks. Social Science & Medicine. 2019;230:295-302. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2019.03.014 By Ariane Resnick, CNC Ariane Resnick, CNC is a mental health writer, certified nutritionist, and wellness author who advocates for accessibility and inclusivity. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist Online Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.