How Companies Can Reduce Emotional Strain
I have already spent a month diving into the subject of emotional labor as it pertains to my work as a tech support provider. There is still a lot more to learn and - since it is a relatively new field of study - much more to discover. The fact that our interactions with customers happen solely over computers adds another aspect to the issue.
Despite the remaining unknowns, it's high time I take a look back and summarize what I have learned so far.
What Companies Can Do:
The academic research suggests that there are some major things companies can do to offset the stress of emotional labor on their customer service agentss, which include:
- Allowing for a large degree of agent autonomy.
- Freedom of Expression, mostly.
- Behavioral expectations are set for customers, as well as for agents. Companies can expect a certain amount of effort from customers to participate in troubleshooting and site building, cultivating a culture of "do it yourself" rather than "do it for me." This prevents the burden from falling solely on employees, and creates a relationship of teamwork rather than servitude. Additionally, certain protections are in place to protect agents from abuse, such as ending chats when customers swear repeatedly.
- Hire the right kind of people. Research suggests that emotional labor is less of a stressor when companies hire individuals who genuinely enjoy helping others, and feel successful when doing so. (This may also be why the service industry is dominated by women, though that is the subject of a different research project altogether.) As Ashforth and Humphrey note in their paper Emotional Labor in Service Roles: The Influence of Identity: "individuals who regard their roles as a central, salient, and valued component of who they are-are apt to feel most authentic when they are conforming to role expectations."
- Management is available, and will listen. Goodwin notes that in businesses with low employee satisfaction "Employees were too intimidated by the manager to take creative risks or to suggest innovations."