My story is one that has shaped the way I function in the workplace, changing/altering my professional values such as integrity. Change and disruption is common in or around work, yet it is important how you approach and work through these disruptions, revealing your growth.
My experience dates back to February 2021, this year. I work in Before & After School care, my shifts are split, 2 hours in the morning and 4 in the afternoon. After arriving home from my morning shift, I had discovered my childhood dog, my best friend Annie, has been violently ill overnight and in the duration of my shift, had to go to an emergency vet across the city. They soon discovered her gallbladder was extremely inflamed and was very close to rupturing. She was scheduled to have emergency surgery just an hour into my second shift. The news was heart wrenching, my best friend on the brink of death and I could do nothing about it. However, that was just it, I couldn’t do anything about it. In reality, I wanted to ignore work, crawl into a little ball and cry for hours, but as there was nothing I could do to help the situation, work in turn could be a distraction. As it seemed like a reasonable idea to go back to work, I did. To this day, I can still remember washing the children’s plates, a wave of anxiety overcoming me, eventually leading me to lean over the sink to catch my breath. This specific memory is engraved in mind as it is a clear example of how I was allowing emotional labour to take over my professional life at the time. Although my dog was near death, she made it through surgery successfully, yet the stress of the dilemma effected my work ethic and demeanour. Emotional labour is a concept made by Arlie Hoshchild in her famous book, The managed heart (Cheprasov, 2021). A case study of the theory by Artem Cheparsov titled “Emotional Labour: Arlie Hochschild’s Definition & Theories” quoted that “Emotional labour occurs when employees introduce or suppress emotions in order to portray themselves in a certain light that, in turn, produces a wanted state of mind in another. This process is often shaped by institutions or other social structures”. The famous example of emotional labour is the smiling cashier, cashiers as part of the role are told to suppress their emotions and always present a smile, engaging in emotional labour. Cashiers are told that customers do not want to know if they are a truly having a good or bad day, instead they should present a placid smile to hide their true emotions. Along with the concept, Hoshchild believed there was two different theories of emotional labour, Deep acting and Surface acting. In relation to my experience, surface acting came into play in my workspace. According to the given journal, surface acting is “where a person puts on a face, essentially, and places his or her outward emotional appearance in line with what is socially expected or acceptable in a certain situation. In other words, surface acting changes your public display of emotion” (Cheprasov, 2021). Whilst feeling extremely upset and anxious, I still plastered a smile on my face and acted happy towards the kids, fearing of showing my true emotions towards them. Since this event, I have reflected on how I treat my emotions in the workplace, making sure to balance both my personal and professional behaviour.
This story can be used in association with the “re-membering” practice. Through studying narrative therapy, I went on to learn “re-membering” is the idea of shaping our identities through life events and the “club of life”. The practice involves reflecting on past events in a category such as work, seeing what worked or didn’t work along with laying out who played a particular part in the scenario, including ourselves. The people who play a significant part of the event and influenced it are part of what is called the “club of life”, one of the journals given to us for a reading called “Remembering: responding to commonly asked questions” (Russell, 2002) quoted that the “‘club of life’ metaphor introduced the idea that for all of us there are members to our club of life who have had particular parts to play in how we have come to experience ourselves. These members of our ‘club of life’ have often had different ranks or status within the ‘club’”. In my story, the day of the event coincided with a visit from our regional manager at work. During my shift, she pulled me aside to ask me questions, in doing so, she noticed my anxious behaviour. Then pulling me aside, my manager I told my manager about the event, in which she applauded me for remaining resilient and told me to push through the shift and remain as strong as I’ve been. Her influence over the situation was both reassuring and empowering. On reflecting on this event, I have since grown in the workplace, my resilience and integrity becoming stronger, remembering to take time for myself and separate my personal life from professional.
Cheprasov, A., 2021. [online] Study.com. Available at: <https://study.com/academy/lesson/emotional-labor-arlie-hochschilds-definition-theories.html> [Accessed 21 August 2021].
Russell, S., 2002. [online] Narrativepractices.com.au. Available at: <http://narrativepractices.com.au/attach/pdf/Remembering_Common_Questions.pdf> [Accessed 23 August 2021].