Labor or love: the enforced happiness of the Pret A Manger Employee JU



The attitudes of employees are greatly influenced by the emotions they experience within the work environment and even outside this environment. Emotional labor has been an issue of interest for researchers owing to the implications associated with the commercialized human feeling. According to Arlie Hochschild, emotional labor is all about managing human feelings to create a bodily and facial display that is publicly observable for a wage. It may involve faking, enhancing, or suppressing personal emotions to create a modified emotional expression (Hochschild, 2013). The case study reviewed in this paper involves the discussion of the impact of enforced happiness of the Pret A Manger Employee JU, and how emotional labor is conceptualized. Pret A Manger is a London- based fast-food chain that requires its employees to master what the company calls the “Pret Behaviours,” in providing service to its clients.

Question 1: What do you think this case tells you about the impact of emotional labor in the retail industry?

In an attempt to bridge the gap between their inner personal feeling and what they are supposed to display, employees of Pret. Fast-food fake the required displays (surface acting), or may effectively modify underlying states to match the required displays (deep acting) (Scott & Barnes, 2011). Surface acting and deep acting can be integrated with Grandey’s model of emotional labor positions and Gross’s taxonomy of emotional regulation. According to Grandey (2000), people attempt to suppress unwanted feelings by faking the required display with regard to surface acting. In deep acting, people deploy their attention somewhere else by conjuring their thoughts to bring out the required effective states, or sometimes alter their cognitive perspective through reappraisal of the situation before them (Grandey & Melloy, 2017). On the other hand, according to Gross, surface acting is a form of emotion regulation that is focused on response, whereby the manipulation of effective states occurs after the effective states commence. Gross describes deep acting as a form of emotion regulation that is focused on antecedence (Scott & Barnes, 2011). Either way, both surface acting and deep acting by the employees of Pret A Manger consequently lead to display of effective states that are in conformity with the expression rules set by the firm and integrated in customer service. This means that positive emotions such as cheer, enthusiasm, interest, and social behaviors such as touching a co-worker are encouraged, while negative emotions such as distress, hostility, and anger are not desired (Shani, et al., 2014). Successful emotion acting by the employees enables them to be financially rewarded through bonuses on their good performance, which supports Hochschild’s observation (Chu, et al., 2012).

Emotional exhaustion is a state of emotional depletion resulting from excessive work demands (Hwa.M, 2013). The employees at Pret. Fast-food have to induce or suppress their personal feelings to show happiness and talk nicely to every customer who comes for shopping. Customers with a rude behavior are likely to cause emotional exhaustion on the workers as opposed to other types of jay-customers (Chuang, et al., 2017). They become emotionally exhausted in an effort to achieve the desired effect in all the customers who visit the shop during their entire time at work.

Another observed impact of emotional labor in the current case study is work withdrawal and low job satisfaction. Experiencing less emotive dissonance leads to work withdrawal and low job satisfaction (Kinman, et al., 2011). Employees with higher levels of positive effect often experience negative work outcomes as they tend to enact emotional labor more genuinely, thus, experiencing less emotive dissonance, and consequently less emotive effort (Chu, et al., 2012). This in turn leads to negative work outcomes, less job satisfaction, and work withdrawal. This would be the most likely reason that one of the firm’s employees tried to form a workers’ union in an attempt to change the emotional demands of their work environment.

In summary, it is undeniable that the employees’ emotional labor for the Pret A Manger has a great financial value and is anonymously accepted in any service, hospitality, or retail industry like the one in which the firm operates. However, display of positive emotions has impacts on the employee, such as acting, emotional exhaustion, and work withdrawal, and on the organizational outcome.

Question 2: Do you think that this case presents a credible account of how emotional labor is conceptualized?

According to (Grandey, 2000), there are three there are three known conceptualizations of labor that largely influence this field of knowledge. The three conceptualizations are based on Hochschild’s Perspective (1983), Ashforth and Humphrey’s Perspective (1993), and Morris and Feldman ‘s Perspective (1996). Each of these conceptualizations make an assumption that management of emotions at work aim to meed display rules that the organization has set and suggest either organizational or personal outcomes of emotional labor.

In his book, The Managed Heart: Commercialisation of Human Feeling, Hochschild (2013) refered to emotional labor as the manaegement of feeling to effectively create facial and bodily displays that are publicly observable. Hochschild’s dramaturgical perspective provide two ways through which actors manage emotions: surface acting, and deep acting. His perspective was largely based on the interactions between an employee of an organization and a customer, where the employ acts to the customer who is the audience, and the work environment acts as the stage. From this perception, service employees use expressive devices to perform impression management in order to meet organizational goals (Lee, et al., 2017). The employees of Pret A Manger also achieve impression management by allowing an employee to touch a co-worker as one of the expressive devices. Thus, an employee is not expected to express anger or a depressed mood towards a customer or co-worker that would otherwise ruin individual and/or organizational performance.

According to Ashforth and Humphrey (1993), emotional labour involves the act of displaying the desired emotions, with the aim of engaging in a form of impression management that is appropriate for an organization. Their percepetion is largely focused on the observable expressions and performance. They argue that emotional labor should have a positive relation with task effectiveness, assuming that the customers will percieve such expressions as sencere. This explains why the employee at the counter at Pret A Manger offered her visible glow whenever customers strolled into the shop, without realizing that the expression was not sencere, but all customers percieved it as sencere and genuine.

The definition of emotional labor according to Morris and Feldman (1996) is “the effort, planning and control” required to emotion that is desired by an organization during interpersonal transactions (Grandey, 2000). This perception is based on the interactionist approach, where the expression of emotions is influenced by the environment setting.

In conclusion, all the three conceptualizations discussed above acknowledge that emotions cab effectively be modified and managed by an individual, and the wider range of social settings influence when emotion display should happen. The four dimensions that can be drawn from these perspectives are: frequency of interactions between the employees and customers, the intensity of emotion display and time of interaction, emotional dissonance, and the variety of emotions expected. All these dimensions can be observed from the case study of the Pret A Manger employee. Thus, we can conclude that this case presents a credible account of how emotional labor is conceptualized.

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  1. Chuang, L.-M., Liu, C.-C. & Kao, H.-K., 2017. THE RELATIONSHIP AMONG EMOTIONAL LABOR, JAYCUSTOMER, AND EMOTIONAL EXHAUSTION IN THE FOOD AND BEVERAGE INDUSTRY. International Journal of Business and Commerce, 5(5), pp. 44-65.
  2. Chu, K. H., Baker, M. A. & Murrmann, S. K., 2012. When we are onstage, we smile: The effects of emotional labor on employee work outcomes. International Journal of Hospitality Management, Volume 31, p. 906–915.
  3. Grandey, A. A., 2000. Emotion Regulation in the Workplace: A New Way to Conceptualize Emotional Labor. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 5(1), pp. 95-110.
  4. Grandey, A. A. & Melloy, R. C., 2017. The State of the Heart: Emotional Labor as Emotion Regulation Reviewed and Revised. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 22(3), pp. 407-422.
  5. HOCHSCHILD, A. R., 2013. The Managed Heart: Commercialisation of Human Feeling. 12 ed. California, USA: University of California Press.
  6. Hwa.M, 2013. Emotional Labour and Emotional Exhaustion: Does Co-Worker Support Matter?. Journal of Management Research, 12(3), pp. 15-127.
  7. Kinman, G., Wray, S. & Strange, C., 2011. Emotional labour, burnout and job satisfaction in UK teachers: the role of workplace social support. Educational Psychology: An International Journal of Experimental Educational Psychology, 31(7), p. 843–856.
  8. Lee, S., Jeong, J. & Lee, Y., 2017. Three Dimensions of Labor: Cognitive Labor Differentiated from Emotional and Physical Labor. Journal of Human Resource Management, 5(4), pp. 57-62.
  10. Shani, A., Uriely, N., Reichel, A. & Ginsburg, L., 2014. Emotional labor in the hospitality industry: The influence of contextual factors. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 37(4), p. 150–158.
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