Remembering birthdays, planning the holiday party, showing a new team member around the office and where the best nearby coffee shop is: these are all examples of emotional labor at work. While many happy employees would like to think of themselves as completely willing to take on these seemingly small tasks, more often than not, they fall on female workers. Just as at home, the majority of this type of care and support in the workplace is expected of women in ways it might not be from their male co-workers. What’s the impact of such expectation?
(Photo Credit: Highways Agency/Flickr)
It’s Not Recognized With Wages
The powerful thing about emotional labor is that it largely goes unrecognized in a formal capacity. We know the gender pay gap is a persistent problem across all industries; add this extra work to female employees’ regular duties, and they’re actually doing more for less than money than their male colleagues.
The problem is that it’s a societal expectation for a lot of women to go the extra mile to offer emotional support and keep things running smoothly. Have you ever heard someone say, “Women are just better at that kind of thing”? It’s a powerful cultural idea that ties all of these extra responsibilities to one gender, meaning that a lot of people are not being fairly paid for the extra work they perform.
“Tasks that require the emotive work thought natural for women, such as caring, negotiating, empathizing, smoothing troubled relationships, and working behind the scenes to enable cooperation, are required components of many women’s jobs,” note researchers Mary Guy and Meredith Newman note in Public Administration Review. “Excluded from job descriptions and performance evaluations, the work is invisible and uncompensated.”
Men Can Be Rewarded for the Same Behavior
If it’s expected of women, it can be disproportionately rewarded in men. While there’s of course nothing wrong with praising others for taking extra care and being a wonderful colleague, we need to be mindful in recognizing that work in both men and women. Next time you thank a male co-worker for tidying the kitchen, ordering office supplies, or making chit-chat with clients before a meeting, consider whether you’d do the same if they were a woman. Hopefully the answer is yes, but it’s worth being conscious of the larger bias at work.
Bigger Goals May Be Put Aside or Compromised
We’re all pressed for time. When we find ourselves doing work that isn’t considered a formal expectation for the job, it might be that those tasks are distracting us from achieving bigger things. The more time we feel the need to devote to things like making coffee or printing out documents for a meeting – and those tiny tasks can add up – the less we have for excelling in our core responsibilities. That may eventually add up to overlooked promotions, missed raises, and other types of stalled career growth.
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