Emotional Labor is Easier with Emotional Intelligence

Topic(s): emotional intelligence
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (2011)
Authors: M.N. Bechtold, S. Rohrmann, I.E. De Pater, B. Beersma
Reviewed by: Mary Alice Crowe-Taylor, Ph.D.

Are jobs that require emotional labor seemingly everywhere? Since the service industry continues to be a growing sector of all western economies, and jobs in the service industry often do, the answer is a resounding yes. Employees in these jobs must manage their own feelings in order to display correct emotions for job performance. For example, to be effective, nurses need to display a range of positive emotions, and not many negative ones. This emotion regulation constitutes emotional labor and can be quite stressful.

Previous research has shown that this job-related stress can result in low work engagement (an indicator of job-related motivation and well-being), which in turn can result in absenteeism, low organizational commitment, low job satisfaction, fewer organizational citizenship behaviors, even lower performance. On the other end of the continuum, highly engaged employees experience greater motivation and well-being at work. They are perceived as authentic, empathetic, and dedicated to delivering a high quality performance for customers. Therefore, employers need to find ways to reduce the negative effects of emotional labor and therefore increase work engagement in their employees.


In this study of service providers (specifically hospice nurses and police officers), these researchers found that those with higher levels of emotion recognition (the ability to read others’ emotions) experienced less stress from the emotional labor inherent to their jobs. Four weeks later, they also reported greater work engagement than those with lower levels of emotion recognition.


So what are the takeaways from this study? Stated succinctly, if you want to decrease the stress your employees experience from the emotional labor required by their jobs, train them in emotional intelligence. Ensure that emotion recognition is part of this training. Other options? Hire employees who are already high in emotional intelligence, specifically emotion recognition.

Some organizations claim that it is enough to instruct their employees on which emotions they should display to customers. However, multifaceted or recurring customer interactions require more than general emotion display policies. These interactions require employees to be sensitive to customers’ changing or ambivalent mood states. That is, emotion recognition is often required in order for customer interactions to be less stressful and more satisfactory for both employees and customers.


Bechtold, M. N., Rohrmann, S., De Pater, I. E., & Beersma, B. (2011). The primacy of perceiving: Emotion recognition buffers negative effects of emotional labor. Journal of Applied Psychology96(5), 1087-1094.

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