Category Archives: Work & Employment

Emotion in Work

I realise that this image may be considered quite old fashioned by today’s 24/7 media standards, however I had to wait a while before writing this blog post since I was writing on this topic for one of my undergraduate assignments.

The image was taken in November 2011 at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) where members of the ‘occupy’ campaign had travelled to protest on the campus. The photograph depicts the incident where a police officer pepper-sprayed the students who were accused of blocking the path from police access, a picture which roused a lot of attention due to the disposition of the officer.

The officer is shown to be walking at a slow pace, with one hand by his side and a calm posture. The cop in the background facing the camera is also shown to be collected, clearly there is no sense of panic or urgency with the officers. It is for these reasons why many have taken issue with the way the police behaved on that day, including one of the developers of pepper-spray:

“I mean, look at the guy. He’s not braced for imminent attack by a foe; he does not move with tension as if navigating a hostile environment. He’s administering punishment, and his face says: “Meh.” (Jardin 2011)¹.”

This got me thinking about the ways in which emotion plays a part in our working lives. The emergence of sociological literature dealing with emotion in work was spearheaded by Alrine Hocschild’s the managed heart (1983). Since then, there has been numerous examples of emotion in work, most famously the forced attentiveness in airline workers – but also the negative displays of debt collectors.

What I felt was interesting about the above image, is the distinct lack of an emotional display – or at least, the attempt to hide any emotion. With the many recent clashes between Police and protestors, the question of how the police both represent themselves – and are classified by others has increasingly been on my mind. Have the days of local community ‘bobby’ past, or do they exist but only when they decide it is safe to emote kindness, empathy and compassion?

In my research on this topic one issue has consistently probed my imagination, what should our expectations of emotion be? Should I be disappointed by a lack of interest on the part of the shopkeeper when I am purchasing items, or should I be frustrated by the forced smiles of sales people? At what point should our expectations of emotions in human interaction meet the realities of paid employment, and exactly how can this be controlled and measured?

¹Jardin, Xeni (2011) ‘The pepper-spraying cop gets Photoshop justice,’ The Guardian [Online] Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/nov/23/pepper-spraying-cop-photoshop-justice

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Undercover Boss

Undercover Boss

Source: cbs.com/shows/undercover_boss/

It’s been a while since I saw this program, but as it is about to enter into its third season I  was reminded about the premise of the show and the message it sends to viewers.

The Premise: The show begins by describing the company and then takes a look at the personal lives of (usually) the company’s CEO. Typically this is done in such a way so the company heads are made to look like the average Joe, making it in a tough world by merit and hard work. For the remainder, the show documents the CEO going undercover in their company to see what it is like to work at the blue-collar level.

What is interesting to me is that for each episode that I have seen the CEO’s ‘companions’ are always in a difficult personal situation, struggling to make ends meet, trying to ‘better’ themselves. I have yet to see them be paired with an apathetic worker who just goes through the motions of the daily grind. The result on the CEO’s part is to bestow money and rewards to these ‘fellow’ average Joes, usually these are promotions, scholarships or better work equipment.

Nevertheless the fairy tail ending always results in the corporate heads being presented in a night in shining armor, riding in on their horses to save the poor of their woes. Usually the blame for all these terrible circumstances are directed at the middle managers, no mention is made of corporate crime or pressure from above. And very rarely are any systematic changes made to benefit all workers within the company, only the lucky few.

So at a time of occupy protests and global recognition of the problems corporations present, the media still presents a rosy picture of the American dream. Viewers are lead along a rosy path of ambition and opportunity where your local Subway or Hooters can put you in a successful career based just on hard work and motivation.

It makes me wonder about how many people still believe this is what happens? Do these programs reinforce the blindness in so many people toward racial, gendered and class based inequalities (and more)? How many of us really see these programs critically?

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