3 Ways to Manage Stress Related to Emotional Labor
In an ideal world, we’d all have jobs that match our personalities, skillsets and values. We’d feel challenged and inspired, and enjoy the company of our coworkers. But often times, this is not the case. Some of us end up in jobs that clash with our true nature, such as the introvert that works at the front desk of a busy hotel, or the extrovert who writes code in a too-quiet office. Others may disagree with company policies, or have trouble getting along with their coworkers.
Whatever our work situation may be, we often have to set aside our genuine emotions for the sake of our careers. Whether we didn’t sleep well the night before, or we’re just not in the mood for small talk, we often find ourselves putting on an act to get through the day. Instead of rolling our eyes at our picky boss, we smile and nod. Instead of telling our officemate that we don’t feel like talking, we fake our way through a pleasant conversation. Instead of arguing with a difficult customer, we kill them with kindness.
While some of this behavior may sound like an inevitable part of being a professional adult, acting in a way that is out of touch with how we truly feel can be detrimental to our work performance, happiness and health. It takes a lot of effort to continually suppress our emotions and put on our “game face” while in the office. Psychologists call this effort “emotional labor,” and too much can lead to burnout, anxiety or depression.
If you catch yourself acting your way through most of your day, it may be time to consider getting a new job. But if that is not a possibility at this time, or if you just need help getting through a rough patch, there are some steps you can take to lighten your emotional load.
Change what you can.
Think about what bothers you at work, and then ask yourself what you can do to change the situation. For example, if you often disagree with your boss, try having a calm conversation with him/her to address specific issues. If that doesn’t work, consider speaking with his/her supervisor, or switching to a different department.
If these actions are too drastic, you may need to opt for “deep acting,” where you try to really feel empathy for your boss. Does he/she have a goal that you can appreciate and help him/her to achieve? Can you have compassion for the amount of pressure he/she is under or the many responsibilities he/she is juggling? Even if you dislike your boss personally or disagree with some of his/her actions, you can still strive to have a deeper understanding of where he/she is coming from. You may find that when you do, you no longer have to grin and bear it.
If it’s your actual job tasks that you don’t like, try job crafting, where you adjust your role to reflect more of your strengths, values and passions. Speak with your manager and see how your position can be adjusted to better suit you. If you crave social interaction, ask how you can add more customer engagement to your role. If you’re in an operations position but you feel like you’d be an asset to the sales team, pitch yourself to your manager to see if you can switch departments or add some sales tasks to your existing role.
If your manager is rigid and altering your job isn’t possible, try structuring your day differently, or approaching your tasks in a creative way. Tammy Erickson, author of Plugged In: The Generation Y Guide to Thriving at Work, says she once had a boring job in a book bindery but strived to make it more appealing. She became interested in the process and tried completing the tasks in a different order, which made it easier, quicker and less mundane. “No work is uninteresting if you can think how to do it differently,” she says.
Ask yourself why.
Think about why you originally accepted your job. Maybe you thought of it as a stepping stone to a better position in the same field. Remind yourself that even if you don’t like some of your job tasks, you are developing skills that will lead to the career you really want. If your company offers education benefits, take advantage of them to make yourself even more marketable.
Maybe your job is simply that –- a job -– and although you want to do something more interesting later on, you are grateful that you have a steady paycheck and health insurance for your family. If you keep your loved ones in mind during the day, you may find that you feel stronger and more resilient.
If the reasons you took your job no longer apply, it may be time to move on, either to another role in the company, or to a different organization or industry altogether. Make a goal to find a new job by a certain date, and start the process of networking and applying to jobs that you are more interested in.
Simply reminding yourself that you have choices may make you feel better about your situation, and your job may not bother you as much. You may find that you’re grateful to have income while you are searching for your new career, and your days will be more enjoyable.
Spend time with energizing people.
People either give us energy or they take it away, so spend time with people you like at work, and minimize your time with the people who leave you feeling depleted. If you don’t have many positive connections at the office, put some time into cultivating them. Join a task force, go to happy hours or seek out a mentor.
If a particularly toxic coworker is difficult to avoid because of proximity, ask your manager if you can change seats. If you’re able to explain why moving will help you be more productive and innovative, your manager may be more receptive. If moving is not an option, try wearing headphones to block out negative comments from your neighbor or, at the very least, deter them from approaching you too often.
If you must work closely with a difficult coworker, try not to let them get to you. You can’t control what someone else says or does, but you can control how you react to them. This is a hard thing to do, but it is a useful skill to develop.
If your toxic coworker is a constant complainer, don’t complain back. Travis Bradberry, co-founder of TalentSmart, suggests asking complainers how they intend to fix the problem. “They will either quiet down or redirect the conversation in a productive direction,” he writes.
It’s important to remember that no job is perfect, and even people who truly love their career have bad days. The key is to find a job that allows us to be ourselves most of the time, where we can keep our “acting” to a minimum. Making a few tweaks to our work life and reminding ourselves of our primary motivation can help us get through tough days, but we also need to remember to relax when we are not at work. Having a rich life outside of the office, filled with nurturing friendships and inspiring hobbies, will make you feel rested and refreshed. When you return to work, you’ll be better able to handle the stress of your job, emotional labor and all.