Do the Hard Work of Emotional Labor


Some manager mandates that everyone under his responsibility must do certain things a certain way.


The reason managers do this is because they can.  They have the power and authority to tell anyone reporting to them to do a certain thing.  But just because they can, doesn’t mean they should.

This is the old ‘I own you’ mentality.  But managers ought to think of those who report to them as volunteer workers, because they are.  Do you own your customers?  Do you tell them what to do?  No, you offer something valuable that they want.  You try to persuade them that what you have is better than the competition.

How much more real power and influence would a manager have if everyone who worked for him really wanted to work for him because he was a better manager than all the others?  What if some direction or announcement from a manager was as anticipated and exciting as the launch of a new product from Apple?

How would that happen?  The manager has to put in the emotional labor of connecting with his people, finding out what their inner desires are, catering to their every need.  He must allow them to take the responsibility of making choices on their own.

Emotional labor is hard work.  It takes connecting with people at a human level, understanding them, listening to them, relating with them.  Finding out what makes them tick, and helping them accomplish their goals.

Yes, it takes a little more effort, but it’s actually easier these days with the new social tools.  You just have to know how to use them.  They don’t call them ‘social’ for nothing.

If you’re not a manager, you can still do the hard work of emotional labor.  You can do it for your team and report to the manager what you know.  You can help out your team by connecting and giving people the opportunity to share their real feelings.

Most people just want to be understood, and feel that they matter.  That takes emotional work, because you’re dealing with a human being and their feelings, not a cog in a machine.

Mandates might work for cogs, but they don’t work well for talented, passionate human beings.

4 thoughts on “Do the Hard Work of Emotional Labor

  1. I just happened to post something to my blog last night along these same lines:

    — — — —

    I am nothing without them.

    Without them, I am just me. Alone. Powerless. I can talk, talk talk. I can write, write, write. I can walk around in circles patting my head and rubbing my stomach. I can do all that and recite the Gettysb…a dirty limerick…while beat-boxing, but I would still be nothing if not for them.

    Without them, I would mostly in my head. The majority of my day would be spent just sitting there. Staring at a screen. Reading stuff on the internet. I’d feel important. I’d feel like I was doing something worthwhile. I’d feel like all the reading was going to make a huge difference in the world. But it would. Because I would be nothing without them.

    I am nothing without them.

    Here’s how I define nothing: vacuous, without substance, and devoid of meaning. That’s a pretty comprehensive description of nothing, if you ask me. Carve the hours you are asleep out of the day. Carve out the hours you’re driving here there. Carve out the hours you’re engaged in acts of hygiene and bodily functions. Carve out the hours you meander aimlessly. Carve out all the time, and you’re left with very little time. For me, that’s the time I get to spend with my family, and that time is precious.

    But they aren’t the ones about which I write.

    Of course my family gives my life meaning. Of course they influence the purpose I pursue in my life. Much of what I do, I do for them because we are part of an interdependent collective. We’re a family! But the time I spend with them is slim compared to the time I spend at work. And at work, I am called a leader.

    I am nothing without those I lead.

    You see, I make nothing. I build nothing. I program nothing. My purpose is to lead, to manage. My existence, according to the company, is to ensure that the people I lead have the type of working environment they need in order to get things done, important things.

    They are the company. Without me, they continue on. I am replaced. They keep working.

    At first, this seems like a very strange realization to have. Andrew Carnegie purportedly said:

    “Take away my people and leave my factories,and soon grass will grow on the factory floors.
    Take away my factories but leave my people, and soon we will have new and better factories.”

    I wonder what he would have said about middle management? He probably would have said something like, “Take away a middle manager, and two more will grow in its place.”

    We spend an awful lot of time at work. I think those of us who choose to lead others should be clear about our purpose. And I think we should be clear about who we serve. Without a spirit of servitude, you’re pretty much left with a middle manager and a grassy factory floor. Oh, there may still be people there, but you’d be farther away from that new and better factory than you could possibly imagine.

    1. Thanks for sharing your post, Ricardo. Really good insight here.

      It might be hard for some managers to accept that they are nothing without their people, or that they don’t really produce anything, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable. I think the ‘place’ where the work gets done is absolutely critical to determining how the work gets done. Because without the right ‘place’ or environment, it won’t get done, or it will turn so awful that the resulting consequences will cause a worse outcome.

      Thanks for making a difference in your world. Woo Woo!

      1. Thanks for the comment.
        Looking back a year later at stuff I wrote, I even amaze myself.

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