Did you know that jobs vary in their degree of emotional labour (Russell Hochschild, 1983)?  A job with a high degree of emotional labour is one which requires you to understand the emotions of others and to communicate emotional information.

Jobs come in three categories:

  • Low emotional labour – to get the outcomes you need to achieve it is better to make decisions largely rationally, not taking emotions into account. Examples might be analytical roles such as physics, electronics, accounting, IT programming, etc.
  • High emotional labour – emotions and their understanding are critical to success. Examples might be counselling, teaching, child care, etc.
  • Variable emotional labour – the importance of emotions varies from time to time. An example might be leadership, where there are times when a leader should make decisions totally rationally – for instance to increase productivity or profit, but there are also times where plugging into the emotions of your workforce is crucial to causing them to engage.

Of course, every job could be argued to be in this third category, as even the most rational tasks may require you to heed the response of other people, but the best example might be that of the surgeon.  Some nurses have developed the capacity to take over the emotional labour of their brilliant surgical colleagues.  “I know he seems cold and distant, but when it comes to picking up the scalpel he’s a genius,” she might say, comforting disconcerted family members after a meeting with the great man.

The capacity to handle emotional labour is determined by your level of emotional intelligence.


Andrew Marty
Managing Director

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Russell Hochschild, Arlie (1983). The managed heart: commercialization of human feeling. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Andrew Marty